TAMPA — A three-bedroom apartment for $900 a month is almost unimaginable in Tampa’s red hot rental market.
Yet budget rents like that have for years been the norm at Tampa Park Apartments, a housing complex that made it possible for low-income families, seniors and people on disability benefits to live close to downtown.
But now tenants have been told the property has been sold and they have until Nov. 1 to move out. Its 370 apartments are home to about 1,200 people. Many fear they will not be able to afford anywhere else.
“It’s going to be a lot harder for a lot of families,” said Samaria Roberts, who has lived at Tampa Park with her three children since 2016.
It’s unclear who has bought the 21-acre property or how it will be redeveloped. The eight parcels that make up the site are valued by the county property appraiser at a combined $13.7 million.
They are owned by a nonprofit group led by Florida Sentinel Bulletin newspaper publisher S. Kay Andrews. She did not return calls or text messages. A property manager at the complex said she could not comment.
There have been signs that a sale was planned.
In December, 33 families who have housing vouchers were told they would have to move out by September. The owners of the complex also wrote to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development informing them they would not renew Tampa Park’s Section 8 contract in 2020.
And the southern half of the complex was put on the market in 2018 after the federal government announced it would no longer subsidize rents because of four failed inspections in as many years. The oldest of its military barracks-style apartments date back to the late 1960s. Inspections found cockroaches, broken or cracked windows, damaged stoves and refrigerators and exposed wiring.
The surge of people looking for low-cost housing will be tough to accommodate, said Tampa Housing Authority Chief Operating Officer Leroy Moore.
The agency will help the 33 tenants who have Section 8 vouchers find new housing. The federal program subsidizes rent so tenants pay no more than one third of their income on housing.
But the Housing Authority will be able to do little for the majority of Tampa Park residents, Moore said. Its wait lists for housing are closed because they are heavily oversubscribed.
“If they don’t have a voucher and they need a (housing) subsidy, there is no way they can get on the waiting list,” Moore said.
Most tenants are working families who receive no rent subsidies. But there are also retirees and people on disability who may struggle to afford rents elsewhere.
Moore said Andrews has asked to meet with him later this week and that she is concerned about rehousing seniors who live at the complex.
That includes Pauline Frazier, 74, who has lived at the complex for more than 20 years. A retired machine runner with the Singleton Seafood company, she had to be reminded by her daughter that she had been given notice to move out.
Tampa Park has been the subject of speculation for years, especially after the Tampa Bay Rays were granted permission to explore sites for a new ballpark in 2016. It was former Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s preferred site for a Rays stadium.
One potential buyer is developer Darryl Shaw. In conjunction with his business partners, Shaw has has spent more than $60 million buying roughly 150 parcels of land in and around Ybor City. The complex is across Nick Nuccio Parkway from the 7.6-acre GasWorx property that Shaw owns.
Shaw is part of FBN Partners, a group of local investors who have loaned $15 million to Times Publishing Co., which owns the Tampa Bay Times.
He acknowledged having talks with Andrews but declined to confirm whether he is the buyer.
“I don’t have any comment at this time,” he said.
Word of the sale has spread among neighbors.
Ruby Campbell Helsel, 65, moved in to a two-bedroom, $700-a-month apartment about eight months ago with her 36-year-old daughter, who is disabled. Helsel, a widow, receives $1,600 a month in Social Security benefits.
She said she not sure where she will go. Tampa seems to build plenty of upscale housing but “nothing for low income."
“It definitely will be a hardship and my neighbors also,” she said. “This was like the lowest place in the city you could find for that amount of rent money.”
Ashley Brown, 35, moved into a three-bedroom apartment less than a year ago with her six children. She works for a bank and said she can afford to find an apartment elsewhere, but worries that many of her neighbors cannot.
“There are some people here who don’t know what they are going to do,” she said. “Tampa is not affordable anymore. It’s just not.”