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Group working to bring more affortable housing to Tampa's 'Suitcase City'

For 20 years, the University Area Community Development Corporation has been improving the lives of people who live there. Creating affordable housing has become a big priority.

An area of Tampa near the University of South Florida carries the nickname “Suitcase City.”

The apartments are not well-maintained, and there is no sense of permanence, hence the nickname.

For 20 years, the University Area Community Development Corporation has been improving the lives of people who live there. Creating affordable housing has become a big priority.

Katie McCall spoke to a resident, Albert Burrus, who has his eyes set on one of the hundreds of homes being built on what are now vacant lots.

Burrus has worked hard on his education: “I graduated last year from culinary arts. I feel damn good. That's steps ahead, to better me, and my life, for my daughter and my wife.”

Says Burrus, “Once you get that education, move forward, build on it for you and your family.”

A staggering 80 percent of residents in Suitcase City are below the poverty level. Its crime rate is more than 20 times higher than the state average. Unemployment is four times higher.

Of its residents, 90 percent rent. Most of their landlords are hard to locate and don’t live in the state.

Burrus has felt the sting of that reality.

“This area it is a bunch of slumlords. they don't care two ***** about the property, or the people, or nothing.”

The nonprofit CDC has purchased 18 lots in the heart of Suitcase City to build affordable housing for the people who live here.

Linda Ladonis, who manages the affordable housing projects, points out how challenging their work is.

“Most of the people in this area pay more than 50 percent of their gross income just for rent,” says Ladonis.

The CDC has plans to build two new apartment complexes, adding to the two it already operates, 10 homes with Habitat for Humanity, and two modular homes. That's 123 homes in all.

But there are 300 families on the corporation’s waiting list for affordable housing.

Burrus’ family is one of them, and he is determined to get one of those homes

“Just that willpower and determination, you got to have that spunk, in order to get somewhere in life,” he says.

With a sparkle in his eye, he looks at one of the lots, right across the street where he lives, and smiles.

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