Nearly a year ago, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced the "Nehemiah Project," where 51 homes in the economically challenged district of Sulpher Springs would be demolished throughout the year as part of an effort to rebuild the neighborhood.
Buckhorn returned to the site of that announcement Wednesday morning, joined by reporters, city staffers and concerned citizens who gathered to hear the mayor announce that the city will spend $1.4 million (via funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) to build on 25 of the vacant, buildable, single family lots in the region as funding allows.
In his speech the mayor thanked some major corporations and non-profits that are working with the city to help rebuild the neighborhood. "Government doesn't always have the answer, or the resources," he said, adding that the city doesn't really "do" a lot of social services.
That's an argument that has been made as to why the city doesn't do much to deal with homeless. Instead, Hillsborough County's government has taken on that responsibility (to disastrous effect, as we've learned in recent months).
"Many of you know that these abandoned homes that have been in this neighborhood, the type of activities that we're going on we're not nice," said Tampa City Councilman Frank Reddick, whose district includes Sulpher Springs. "Neighbors should be proud that money has been invested in your community, and now you can live in a safe environment. We want to make sure that we get the drug addicts and the prostitutes out of this area."
According to Ali Glisson, Mayor Buckhorn's press secretary, 12 initial parcels will be built over approximately the next 120 days. Those particular parcels were chosen to be rebuilt first because of their proximity to each other, the Sulphur Springs Elementary school and Springhill Community Center.
The "Nehemiah Project" also includes code enforcement doing their fair share, and Buckhorn said today that they have removed 150 tons of debris from the area over the past year. In addition, TECO has installed 400 new streetlights in Sulphur Springs, and city staff have helped with the lighting by trimming numerous large canopies.
"We're going to provide people the opportunity for home ownership, we're going to stabilize the neighborhood, we're going to make this a place where people are proud to live just like they did," the mayor said, adding that "It's the beginning of the renaissance of Sulpher Springs. We're committed all the way to the end."
Joseph Robinson, of the Sulphur Springs Action League, says he hopes the plan will bring more stability and a higher quality of life to the community. He says that for many, they've become accustomed to the old way of life for so long that it's difficult to step up and make improvements to their own properties.
"Because they're so used to the old for so long it makes it kind of difficult to want to step up and do better yourself," adding that
"This community is a transient community," Robinson said. "People stay here for a little while and then they move out. And that's what's hurting our schools. But we can have a better school, and better residence and the quality of life can go back to where it was years and years ago."