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Tampa public housing residents get relocation notices ahead of ambitious redevelopment

A rendering shows Main Street in the West River plan, where total construction costs could reach $350 million in the long run.
A rendering shows Main Street in the West River plan, where total construction costs could reach $350 million in the long run.
Published Dec. 26, 2014

TAMPA — There's been talk for more than three years that Tampa's oldest public housing complex is due to be torn down, but now residents of North Boulevard Homes have been told to expect a move as soon as next year.

The first moves could start in April, with relocations taking about 18 months. The notices went to residents a few weeks ago.

North Boulevard Homes, built in 1941, and the neighboring Mary Bethune High Rise Apartments, have about 820 apartments and are home to 2,000 or more residents.

The relocations are part of an ambitious 10-year plan to redevelop what the city and Tampa Housing Authority are calling the "West River" area.

In place of the public housing, local officials want to create a new community with twice as many homes, both subsidized and those renting or selling on the open market. With a broader mix of incomes in the neighborhood, officials expect Main Street to attract more stores and more customers.

But first, the relocations.

"It's the least expensive" part of the project, "but it's one of the most important," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said of the moves.

The notices don't come as much of a surprise, since the housing authority has held dozens of meetings with residents on its plans for months.

A few residents are apprehensive about the change, North Boulevard Homes residents council president David Gallon said, but most look forward to moving to someplace better and seeing an update for the community itself.

"They're pretty excited about it," Gallon said. "We've been hearing about it for quite a while."

The housing authority has budgeted $1.1 million to pay for the moves and $350,000 for counseling, classes and other support services.

Residents will be able to choose whether they want to go to one of the housing authority's other 28 properties or receive a Section 8 voucher to rent a privately owned home or apartment.

"You can go anywhere you want to go," Tampa Housing Authority chief operating officer Leroy Moore told about 100 residents at a meeting on the plan Tuesday night.

Since 1998, the housing authority has relocated about 5,000 residents from College Hill, Central Park Village and other properties that it has since redeveloped. Of those, about 70 percent chose Section 8 housing.

The housing authority will hold "Relocation 101" classes for residents, and counselors will put together case plans for each resident and make referrals for additional courses on Section 8 housing, housekeeping, financial literacy and life skills.

Residents will get at least 90 days' notice of when they'll have to move as well as payment for their moving expenses.

Residents also will have the option of coming back to the public housing at the new development as long as they comply with their leases in the meantime.

To help pay for the West River plan, where total construction costs could reach $350 million in the long run, City Hall and the Tampa Housing Authority plan to apply for a $30 million federal Choice Neighborhoods grant in February.

If history is any indication, Buckhorn said, federal officials could announce which cities win the grants in the fall.

The grant would help pay for infrastructure at West River and could help bring in other financing. At Encore Tampa, the mixed-use community that is replacing the Central Park Village public housing complex, officials have used a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods grant to arrange for another $78 million in financing.

But officials don't plan to wait on the grant to proceed with relocations and demolition at North Boulevard Homes.

The housing authority has budgeted about $1.7 million to demolish the 85 squat, concrete-block apartment buildings on the site. That work could start in 2017 or 2018.

"The quicker we can get a cleared site, the better we can perform in grant competition, because you're closer to being shovel-ready," Moore said.

Officials do plan to preserve and restore one of the existing buildings at North Boulevard Homes, perhaps as a center for youth programs.

The reason?

"You've asked us to do it," Moore told residents this week. "A lot of people … want to have some remembrance of the good things that existed here before things sort of lost their way in the last couple decades."

Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

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