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Failed funding puts public housing renovations on hold in Tarpon Springs

Teresa Mosley sweeps the porch of her Mango Circle apartment while her mother, Anne Gooden, watches Mosley’s kids, from left, Zay, Zyrie and Neavean Gooden, and friend Sabastien Gonzalez.
Published Jul. 17, 2014

TARPON SPRINGS — Rosanna Corbo, 45, has spent the last decade trying to get her life in order. It's hard to focus, though, when you have to slap cockroaches off the toilet just to sit down.

That's what it's like at Mango Circle, a dilapidated public housing complex off Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. After a short stint in a homeless shelter two years ago, Corbo took to the duplex with an injured rotator cuff that kept her out of work, her two youngest children and an unfinished high school education.

"What do I do?" Corbo said. "I can't move anywhere, so I'm here right now. Here is where I will stay for a while, until maybe one day I hit the Lotto and then I can move out to a decent neighborhood and a decent place."

Year after year, Corbo and other Mango Circle residents are promised a complete overhaul of the 64-unit development. Residents would get vouchers to move wherever they'd like on the government's dime, even to places not designated as low-income housing.

For many single parents without stable income, a voucher is the only way out of Mango Circle, where they deal with bug infestations, structural damage and rust, among other problems in exchange for 30 percent of their income in rent each month.

"Residents can say whatever they want to say," said Pat Weber, Tarpon Springs Housing Authority executive director. "I don't think the conditions at Mango Circle are optimum, that's for sure. After all, it was built in the '70s. I do think it's safe and sanitary housing."

Weber and Pinnacle Developers, Mango Circle's private partner, have applied for tax credits to rebuild three times in five years. The new development, which would house more families, would be called Eagle Ridge.

Weber estimated a complete renovation would cost between $15 million and $20 million.

"You can't really demolish and rebuild Mango Circle without getting tax credits," Weber said.

Of the three recent attempts to get funding from the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, the first two were unsuccessful. It was the third that gave residents hope.

Mango Circle tentatively received $1.6 million in December But by March, other developers had challenged the Mango Circle application. That's a routine practice, said Florida Housing Finance spokeswoman Cecka Rose Green.

Amid litigation, the Mango Circle developers withdrew their own application.

Tarpon Springs has fared better with other projects. In 2011, the housing authority opened Oak Ridge Estates — 62 townhouses and apartments. On July 7, the city got funding for a new 95-unit elderly complex to be called Villages at Tarpon.

Mango Circle has no such luck.

"I think that right now the people that are in there have adapted to what's there, with the hopes that it's going to change at some point in time," Mayor David Archie said.

That's the mind-set of Dora Atkins, a single mother who lives with her son, Kevin Klimczak, 15. Her older kids moved out, unwilling to tolerate the conditions. After four years, the roaches don't faze Atkins.

Posters and photos adorn the walls, but they don't hide the bedroom ceiling hole she's had for two years.

"We made it our home," Atkins said.

Across the complex, the roof completely caved in on Mary Holmes, 38, and her kids. The fix took two days.

Like so many others in Mango Circle, moving elsewhere without a voucher just isn't an option for Holmes and her family. So they keep waiting.

Contact Julie Kliegman at jkliegman@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4159. Follow @jmkliegman.

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