Shooting video with one hand and carrying her 3-year-old daughter with the other, Reeshemah McCoy-Green whooped and jumped and laughed as a trackhoe with a giant metal claw smashed into an abandoned house in Sulphur Springs.
"Look at this!" said McCoy-Green, 40, who lives across N 16th Street from the house. "This is so exciting!"
The guy at the controls of the trackhoe — at least for the first ceremonial smashing — was Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who promised more demolition to come.
"Houses like this are a cancer in our neighborhoods, and if you don't deal with them and you don't eradicate them, that cancer spreads to that house and to that house and to that house and to that house," he said.
On Tuesday, Buckhorn announced a new initiative called the Nehemiah Project to tear down 51 abandoned homes in the Sulphur Springs area over the next six months. Each has a string of code enforcement violations. All have been deemed uninhabitable. None are historic. Forty-five are in Sulphur Springs. Another six are north of Busch Boulevard.
The city is paying the $5,500 cost of each demolition, and the city's Clean City Division will maintain each lot. Three Tampa code enforcement officers also will be assigned full-time to Sulphur Springs. As part of the project, the city and Tampa Electric Co. this week will install 33 new street lights in a four-block radius.
Tearing down the vacant homes — many of them in foreclosure — will make a difference, Sulphur Springs neighborhood association president Joseph Robinson said.
"We need these homes taken out," he said. "You can go down a number of streets and you have good homes and you have two or three bad ones and it kills the whole street."
Buckhorn said he stole the name for the Nehemiah Project from neighborhood activist Chloe Coney, who turned to the Bible and chose the name of the man who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in 51 days when she was planning a similar project in East Tampa.
As the city gains clear title to the lots, it will reach out to builders, Buckhorn said.
The city might be in a position to help with down-payment assistance with part of Florida's share of a multibillion-dollar foreclosure settlement. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has earmarked $35 million of the money for down payment assistance.
"What I would like to do is not have a vacant lot sitting there, but have a single-family home," Buckhorn said.
McCoy-Green, who has lived in Sulphur Springs since 2005, said the work is a good start.
"I've been praying for change in this neighborhood," she said. "I've seen so much crime around here. I've been scared. … But right now I'm seeing that so much is getting done, and I'm seeing hope in this area."
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403.