TAMPA, Fla. (WTSP) – After spending nearly two years forcing more than 800 of some of the most vulnerable and economically unstable families out of the oldest public housing community in Tampa, demolition on North Boulevard Homes will begin Thursday.
The city and Tampa Housing Authority (THA) move forward with a multi-million dollar plan to build a new community along the coveted waterfront property of the Hillsborough River.
“It’s bittersweet that it’s leaving,” said former resident Carlton Lofton. “You hate to see it go, but we’re pretty much at a point where they had to do something with the area, because it seems like when you came through, people were losing hope.”
The West River Redevelopment plan calls for a massive makeover of a 120-acre plot of land within the borders of I-275, Columbus Avenue, Rome Avenue and the Hillsborough River.
The city of Tampa is the lead architect, with the THA, Hillsborough County Schools and the Florida Department of Transportation supporting the effort.
For years, North Boulevard Homes has been a breeding ground for poverty and crime in West Tampa. The units are outdated and in severe disrepair, unable to even support air conditioning in a city where the average summertime heat indices often rise above the 100-degree mark.
Both the city and residents have been vocal about deserving better. However, as demolition begins, some still question the timing and motivation of the city’s plan.
“The majority of the people that have been relocated from this area in West Tampa, they’ll never get the chance to come back here,” Lofton said. “I’ll believe it when it actually happens.”
Lofton’s skepticism is rooted in history. Rodney Kite-Powell of the Tampa Bay History Center says few African American communities in Tampa have been able to survive due to forces such as highway expansion, housing demolition and gentrification.
Leroy Moore of the Tampa Housing Authority said every single relocated family will get first right of refusal to return to the new, mixed-income properties. However, he admitted few come back. Instead, many choose to stay in the communities where they settled during relocation.
Moore says demolition of North Boulevard will take place over the next year and a half, and construction on the first mixed-income property will start before the entire demolition is complete.