TAMPA — As an Army brat who moved wherever her father was stationed, Aneshia Scott always yearned for the stability of a long-term home.
Her yearning grew even stronger as her life was turned upside down in 2004, when she lost her dad, her job and her apartment in the same month.
She finally found a sense of belonging at Tampa Park Apartments, a low-income housing complex on the western edge of Ybor City where she has lived for 15 years.
She raised her two daughters there and has friends close by. After she developed neuropathy and was unable to work, Scott, 40, qualified for subsidized rent.
But she and about 33 other families recently received letters informing them they must move out by September after their landlord told the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development it will not renew its Section 8 contract. The families will instead be given housing vouchers and help from the Tampa Housing Authority to find a new home.
The news has left Scott with mixed feelings. She loves living at Tampa Park even as crime has taken its toll there in recent years. Inside her home, she sometimes ducks for cover at the sound of gunshots.
“I’m pretty much ready to leave,” she said.
The 30 or so families are the last at the complex who receive Section 8 rental assistance. Another 170 families were forced to move out in 2018 after the federal government refused to continue subsidizing poor housing in the southern section of the complex.
The complex failed four inspections over a four-year period because of insect infestations, doors and windows that didn’t open, damaged stoves and refrigerators, and exposed wiring.
It’s unclear whether the 22-acre complex with its 307 total apartments will be sold, rebuilt or rented out as is. In late 2018, 11 acres of the property were put on the market and touted for their proximity to downtown, Ybor City, the Channel District and Water Street Tampa.
S. Kay Andrews, publisher of the Tampa Florida Sentinel Bulletin newspaper and an officer with the non-profit that owns the complex, did not return a voicemail message or text messages seeking comment this week. Property manager Yolanda Anthony declined to speak to a reporter who twice visited the complex’s management office on Nebraska Avenue.
Most of the apartments in the southern section are now rented to families who can pay the full rent — $600 per month for a one-bedroom apartment and $900 for a three -bedroom unit of 878 square feet. Those rents, well below current market rates for the downtown area, reflect the age and condition of the military barracks-style apartments typical of mid-20th century public housing.
Still, they provide more income for the landlord than the rents allowed by HUD for Section 8 units. Under HUD rules, Tampa Park Apartments can charge no more than $500 for a one-bedroom apartment and $648 per month for a three-bedroom unit, according to data provided by the Tampa Housing Authority.
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“With HUD, you can only raise the rent so much,” said Margaret Jones, director of assisted housing at the Tampa Housing Authority. “Maybe they want to raise revenue.”
With demand high in Tampa Bay’s rental market, it could take up to four months to find new homes for the displaced tenants, Jones said. It may be longer still for those with poor credit histories or criminal records.
Nestled between downtown Tampa and Ybor City, the property would likely draw the attention of developers. The seven parcels that comprise the complex include a commercial lot that fronts Nebraska Avenue. Combined, they are valued at $13.7 million by the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s office.
Men in business suits were recently driven around the property in golf carts, a resident said. A sign at the apartment’s management office says it is not accepting new applications and advises potential tenants against checking back until January 2021.
Once considered a potential site for a new Major League Baseball ballpark, Tampa Park Apartments was originally built as housing for longshoremen who worked at nearby Port Tampa Bay. It’s still home to some retired longshoremen and officers in the non-profit corporation that owns it include James Harrell, former president of the Local No. 1402 of the International Longshoremen’s Union.
Kurt Lofton, 62, has lived at Tampa for two years with his partner Victoria Simpson. Lofton recently retired after 23 years working as a cook. His rent subsidy means he only pays $280 per month.
Lofton said he won’t miss the dilapidated home, with its insects, leaky sink and stove that hasn’t worked for two weeks.
“I want to move,” he said. “I like it here, but I can’t get rid of the roaches in my house.”