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Lost African American grave discoveries highlight need for affordable housing

The discovery of 297 graves from the forgotten Zion Cemetery forced dozens of families to relocate.

TAMPA, Fla. — The discovery of 297 graves from the forgotten Zion Cemetery in Tampa not only has serious historical implications, but it is also highlighting the need for more affordable housing throughout the area.

RELATED: 21 families once living on Zion Cemetery are in new homes

Because those living on top of the cemetery at Tampa Housing Authority’s Robles Park Village moved to the top of the THA wait list -- which has more than 38,000 people -- thousands across the city in need of affordable housing will have to hold on a little longer. 

It’s a wait many might not be able to afford.

RELATED: At least 115 more graves from Zion Cemetery found at Gonzmart property

"We have a lot of housing, a lot of apartments going up, but the pricing has truly outpriced the community,” said Yvette Lewis, president of the Hillsborough NAACP. "It is time for Tampa, Hillsborough County to explore other alternatives such as container homes and a tiny home village."

The Tampa Housing Authority said it has spent between $70,000 and $80,000 relocating about 30 families from Robles Park Village. Lewis said she wants to make sure that financial loss won’t impact the remainder of the families at Robles Park not living on the cemetery.

"My concern is if their apartments are falling down or need assistance...would because of this that happened, would this give them less funds to have a negative impact on them?" she asked.

At a meeting last week, the housing authority leaders said, "yes." While urgent issues would be addressed right away, neighbors might have to wait longer for certain repairs. 

THA chief operating officer Leroy Moore said everything would be done to make sure residents’ needs are taken care of despite the impact the relocation is having on the agency’s bottom line.

RELATED: City of Tampa pledges $50,000 for Zion memorial; committee seeks more support

The city of Tampa, Hillsborough County and the state legislature could each give $50,000 for the Zion Cemetery. However, the money would be to erect a memorial. 

Moore said much more money will be needed to restore the cemetery. He said the goal is to demolish the five buildings that sit on top of the cemetery and create a memorial park that honors those resting underground. The rest of Robles Park Village will eventually be demolished and redeveloped as a mixed-income community.

Emerald Morrow is a reporter with 10News WTSP. Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. You can also email her at emorrow@wtsp.com. To read more about the search for lost African American burial grounds in the Tampa Bay area, head to wtsp.com/erased.

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