Monday, February 19, 2018
Politics

Buckhorn: Neighborhood improvement programs coming

TAMPA — Nearly halfway through his term, Mayor Bob Buckhorn has announced the creation of two new programs he promised when running for office two years ago.

The first is a Neighborhood University for residents ready to become more active in their communities.

"What I really would like to have emerge out of this is the next generation of neighborhood leaders," Buckhorn said. "In order to do that, they have to be well-versed in how the city runs."

The second is a voluntary landlord training program designed to help property owners keep their rentals neat.

Both are among the 34 campaign promises being tracked by the Buck-O-Meter, a project of PolitiFact Florida, the political fact-checking arm of the Tampa Bay Times.

Here's a look at each program, what candidate Buckhorn promised and what the mayor has delivered so far.

•••

As he campaigned in 2011, Buckhorn said he wanted to empower current and emerging neighborhood leaders by establishing a Neighborhood University.

The idea, he said, is to build a generation of activists ready to take on leading roles.

"The neighborhood leaders I started with back in 1987 are still the neighborhood leaders today," said Buckhorn, a special assistant to former Mayor Sandy Freedman in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The goal is to "ensure some continuity" of leadership.

"That's the problem," agreed Jerry Frankhouser, president of the neighborhood umbrella group Tampa Homeowners, An Association of Neighborhoods. "Some of these neighborhoods don't have anybody to take over for president. If the president were to die, they would fall apart."

THAN occasionally holds its own workshops on issues such as zoning and construction, and its members attend any sessions held by city and county officials, but Frankhouser said Buckhorn's idea is a good one.

The model for the university is the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce's Leadership Tampa program for business professionals.

A year ago, City Hall provided PolitiFact with a draft plan for the university showing that the program would include an explanation of neighborhood associations and how they can improve communities; an introduction to city government; leadership training; and communications advice.

Last week, Buckhorn announced the creation of the program. It will be free, Buckhorn said, but many other details remain to be worked out, including how people in the class will be selected and how big the class will be.

The curriculum is in the works, and Buckhorn expects it to include instruction on zoning and land use, code enforcement, how various agencies work with each other, how to interact with the City Council and information about community development grants.

Buckhorn said he hopes the first class will start within a couple of months.

•••

Candidate Buckhorn also promised to create a landlord training program to teach the city's landlords about "code requirements, code enforcement procedures, and techniques for maintaining their properties in a manner that will help prevent code violations in our rental communities."

If Tampa needs anything, it's a more responsible group of landlords, said Joseph Robinson Sr., president of the Sulphur Springs Neighborhood Association.

When Buckhorn went to Sulphur Springs in January to announce a city plan to tear down 51 abandoned houses, Robinson pleaded with him to work next on getting landlords to take more interest in their property.

Too often, Robinson said Wednesday, "the landlords just go to the bank with the money." Many don't keep up with their properties or even know how bad they are because "they don't live up here."

When PolitiFact asked about the program a year ago, Buckhorn said he couldn't start it until he filled the job of city housing director. The city's manager of housing and community development, Sharon West, retired in January 2012.

That job still hasn't been filled — Buckhorn said he wasn't happy with the first group of applicants, so the city is re-advertising the position — but he announced Friday that the program will begin soon.

Buckhorn said the program will go ahead under the guidance of Jake Slater, the city's neighborhood services director.

Landlords, Buckhorn said, "need to know what we expect out of them."

Here again, city officials hope to begin the program within a few months but have yet to identify the initial class or to flesh out other details.

The program will be voluntary, and Buckhorn expects that associations for Realtors and apartment managers will refer landlords to the city for training.

The Tampa Housing Authority might also help identify owners of subsidized Section 8 rental housing who could go through the program.

"I think they're going to want to be a part of this," Buckhorn said.

It can't happen soon enough for Robinson.

"It has a lot of merit because there may be some areas where they need to be made aware of their responsibilities to the communities," he said. "I've been trying to advocate to get something like that up here for a long time."

•••

When he was running for mayor, Buckhorn promised to create a Neighborhood University and a landlord training program.

Both of these newly announced programs match the basic promises Buckhorn made. Still, key details about when they will start and how they will work are sketchy at best.

Until we see more, we rate each of these as In the Works.

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