For the first time in years, there are no menacing young men loitering outside her house. Trash does not litter the grounds and maintenance issues are taken care of promptly. And finally, she can hear her grandchildren talk without the intrusive sound of booming bass outside her windows.
It's been seven months since Winifred Crecy moved out of 1149 Harrison St. — the Central Park Village apartment she lived in for 30 years — to a smaller dwelling in Ybor City's Mobley Park Apartments. And though the 50-year-old grandmother initially resisted leaving, she's slowly easing into her new neighborhood.
"At first, I didn't like it," she says, while bottle-feeding her 1-year-old granddaughter inside her living room. "I didn't want them to tear down the community."
The community where she'd raised her children, met dozens of lifelong friends and volunteered so much of her time to renovate.
"But once I relocated," she continues, "I kind of liked being here. It's quieter."
As demolition crews tear down the 28-acre Central Park Village, one of Tampa's most notorious public housing projects, hundreds of former residents are starting new lives in neighborhoods throughout Tampa. According to Tampa Housing Authority records, 400 households have moved to neighborhoods in and around Tampa, primarily in the city's poorer areas.
The largest number of households, 70, moved to East Tampa, north of Hillsborough Avenue and west of I-75. Another 108 households moved to the neighborhoods surrounding the University of South Florida and Sulphur Springs. Seventy-nine households are split between West Tampa, Temple Terrace and the downtown area that surrounds Central Park Village.
But for the handful of former residents interviewed by CL, any place is better than their old neighborhood.
"Thank God," says Ariel Nash, one of the last tenants to leave Central Park Village in July. "I'm kind of happier. Towards the end, I was miserable."
During Nash's three years at Central Park Village, thieves broke into her home several times. Sometimes, when she would leave for work or her daughter's elementary school, men would be sitting on her car taunting her. And as people moved out, she says, her apartment became a haven for roaches and rats.
Nash now lives in a Sulpher Springs apartment building. And though open drug deals regularly take place just a block away at a gas station corner, she prefers this small complex to the seemingly lawless Central Park Village.
"I got my privacy [now]," she says. "It's quieter."
At the Regency Square Apartments, just west of the USF Campus, school-age children run around screaming and laughing. Their playful screeching can be heard throughout the 120-unit complex, but the noise doesn't bother Carmen Miranda, a former Central Park Village resident. At her old home, children rarely ran around the neighborhood having fun; many parents kept them inside for safety.
"I don't miss it," Miranda, 45, says of her former home. "I feel I'm in a good environment for my children and grandchildren."
Miranda moved to Regency Square in May after seven years at Central Park Village. Regency Square's drab tan buildings with green shutters were still more inviting than the bunker-like housing and chipped blue paint of Central Park Village. Plus, due to a Section 8 voucher she received upon moving, Miranda pays less rent these days.
"I always kept to myself," she says about her years at CPV. "I'd go to work and come home."
But at Regency Square, "the neighbors look out for each other."
And, despite the kids loudly playing in the grass behind her, she adds, "It's quiet."
The redevelopment of Central Park Village has been heralded as a key project that will uplift not only those long-neglected 28 acres, but also the surrounding hundreds of acres just east of downtown. Through an agreement among city officials, Tampa Housing Authority and Bank of America, the new Central Park Village — named "Encore" as a nod to the area's musical roots — will feature 794 mixed-income rental apartments and over 1,000 condos, with a mix of shops, office space and a grocery store. Perry Harvey Sr. Park and St. James Church will also be restored for community use. The $27 million project is expected to be completed by 2012.
Out of the 794 planned apartments, 667 will be labeled "affordable," allowing for public housing (governed by the Tampa Housing Authority) and Section 8-approved units. (Nearly 60 percent of those leaving Central Park Village received Section 8 vouchers.)
All former tenants of Central Park Village have first dibs on the units, TPH officials say, as long as they maintain good credit and no criminal convictions in the period after their relocation. Tampa Housing Authority's Senior Vice President Leroy Moore says market forces may affect the number of condos built on site, but the amount of affordable apartments would only change by approximately 50, leaving "more than enough" for any former Central Park Village renter.
So far, 119 former residents have expressed interest in moving back, including Crecy.
"We had fun in Central Park," she says. "We had a lot of parties for the grandchildren. Mobley [Square] won't hold all my grandchildren, but it will give them a nice place to go for now.
"I'll be back in Central Park," she continues. "I'm just hoping I'm on the list."