Robles Park residents want independent study on housing conditions

Cristine West holds her 2-year-old daughter, Creasy Cole, in her Robles Park Village apartment recently in Tampa. A leaky bathtub is bringing roaches, she says. But there’s little push to rehab homes with demolition planned in coming years.
Cristine West holds her 2-year-old daughter, Creasy Cole, in her Robles Park Village apartment recently in Tampa. A leaky bathtub is bringing roaches, she says. But there’s little push to rehab homes with demolition planned in coming years.
Published June 19, 2016


Cristine West lost her apartment after quitting her job because of high blood pressure. With nowhere else to go, she moved with her four kids to Robles Park Village, one of Tampa's oldest public housing projects.

Her three-bedroom apartment has roaches. The bathtub leaks every time her children take a bath.

"My bug problem is coming from the water," she said. "It's really depressing."

The Tampa Housing Authority plans to demolish Robles over the next five years. But that leaves its tenants, most of them black and all of them poor, stuck in dilapidated homes that the Tampa Housing Authority is reluctant to rehab.

So last year, the authority paid for residents to set up a nonprofit Tenant Council Association to advocate on their behalf. But that group has now turned on the authority, which it says is failing them. It is pushing for an independent study to bring attention to the blighted conditions residents face.

"I just didn't see what they were doing to help the residents," said Reva Iman, who heads the nonprofit. "This survey would show they're not doing what needs to be done. It would embarrass them."

Tampa Housing Authority officials say Robles is habitable and they respond to all maintenance requests. It spends $2.1 million per year for an eight-man maintenance crew and supervisor to carry out repairs to the 483-unit project that was built in 1956. Last year, the crew handled more than 3,600 service calls, authority records show.

"What we won't do over the next five years before demolition is major renovation," said Leroy Moore, the Housing Authority's chief operating officer. "We will do replacement; we will do repairs. We wouldn't do modernization on a site that has a limited life span life."

Among the problems at Robles are mold and dampness, cockroaches and peeling paint, according to a 2015 inspection of about 25 homes conducted for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. There is no irrigation at the project and many play areas are just bare dirt.

The report gave Robles a score of 72 out of 100 based on the number of health risks discovered. That was down from 86 the previous year.

"If all buildings and units were inspected it is projected that a total of 162 health and safety deficiencies would apply to the property," the report states.

If the residents' nonprofit group can meet the $3,000 cost, it will ask the anthropology department at the University of South Florida to conduct a study on conditions.

That would help the group bid for grants and other funding to run an after-school program and classes for adults who want to get their GED. Robles Park has an after-school program run by the authority, but it only has places for 25 kids, Iman said.

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"In order to get funding, we have to show a need," she said. "We can take that and see what we can do to help the residents around here."

USF's anthropology department has conducted studies on other Tampa public housing projects, including one on the fate of people relocated out of College Hill, Ponce de Leon and Central Park Village.

Anthropology professor Susan Greenbaum said Robles Park is an example of how public housing has been allowed to decay because of funding cuts to HUD. The 2011 Budget Control Act capped annual appropriations for nondefense spending by the federal government, and funding for HUD was cut by $3.7 billion the following year.

"The people there deserve to have a reasonable standard of living and they deserve to be listened to," Greenbaum said.

Relations between the authority and the residents' council have become strained in recent months as Iman has pushed for the study and criticized authority leaders at board meetings.

Among her complaints: The authority will not consider moving playground equipment, appliances and a portable building from North Boulevard Homes, where residents are being relocated from ahead of demolition.

Moving the portable would require a new concrete slab and connection to utilities, at a cost of $25,000, Moore said.

"We're not going to do that," he said. "If there's a grant we can find, that's different. Everything has to be done with a budget."

Greenbaum said some of the cost of the study would be to pay residents to conduct interviews. But that could raise issues with their rent if the authority classifies the payment as income. Many Robles Park residents who are unemployed pay no rent and receive a subsidy to cover utility bills.

"It's trying to get a sense of what are the most urgent needs people have and is there a way to solve those problems in terms of housing and general survival issues," she said.

Contact Christopher O'Donnell at or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.