Buckhorn talks tough about going after Tampa slumlords

Buckhorn was joined by Slater and other members from the city's code enforcement board and Tampa Police Department in front of a particularly distressed property on Brooks Street, as they kicked off a 30-day offensive that will use six inspectors that will be dedicated to rooting out blight in three areas of the city, Florida Avenue east to 22nd street between Busch Boulevard and Linebaugh Ave.; Central Avenue east to Florida Avenue between Bird St. and Sligh Ave.; 50th Street east to 58th street between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to I-4.

It will be a seven day a week operation, with the officers working from 9 am to 7 pm.

Slater's department currently only has 26 inspectors to deal with over a thousand cases in the city, which is why he's grateful that Mayor Buckhorn says he will be calling for an increase in manpower for his department when he presents his budget to the City Council later this week.

"The code enforcement process takes time," Slater says. "You have to serve legal notice and then it goes to court, to a code enforcement board. There’s a time factor. But we’re not going to put up with this."

Buckhorn says that the 30-day campaign is just the beginning of a complete reorganization of how the city approaches code enforcement. That includes consolidating Code Enforcement and the Clean City divisions into the Neighborhood Enhancement department, with both divisions reporting under one leadership structure.

When asked why the campaign was beginning on a Sunday, Buckhorn said the issue had become urgent. "What we've been doing isn't working," he admits.

Undoubtedly the embarrassment that was the Hoe Brown situation brought the issue to greater prominence. Though not mentioning the now former Port Authority chair by name (Brown resigned from his port gig and other prominent board appointments days after the Times story broke), Buckhorn said it showed him that "that we’ve got an obligation to do better on behalf of the good folks who live in these neighborhoods who shouldn’t be forced to live in these conditions."

Buckhorn says the city will present a full report on the results of their 30-day code enforcement sweep at its conclusion.

  • This is an image that city of Tampa officials want to eliminate

Some parts of the Tampa Bay area political establishment reacted with shock and dismay after the Tampa Bay Times reported earlier this month that then-Tampa Port Authority chairman William "Hoe" Brown ran a thriving slum behind his business office in Seminole Heights — a group of five trashed single-wide mobile homes that Tampa's directer of neighborhood services Jake Slater called "deplorable" and "not fit for human habitation."

Although City Councilman Frank Reddick has complained for a couple of years about similar code enforcement problems in his East Tampa district, the Buckhorn administration remained relatively quiet about it all. But no longer.

At a Sunday morning press conference held in front of an especially egregious example of a trashed home, Buckhorn talked tough to other slumlords not keeping up their properties.

"There’s no excuse for this, and those who would allow it, those who would allow their buildings to fall into disrepair, and allow renters to live in squalor? Shame on them," Buckhorn said. "Shame on them. If they did that to a pet, they’d go to jail. Shame on them. And we’re coming for them. And If you’re going to treat people worse than you treat animals, we’re going to be coming after you."

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