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Woman's home set for demolition

The city declared the house unfit for human habitation, but it's all she has.

Published December 13, 2006

Nancy Vaz da Silva stands outside her home as Robert Miles, St. Petersburg's building demolition coordinator, takes boards off her front door so she can retrieve her belongings.
[Times photo: Lara Cerri]

[Photos courtesy of the City of St. Petersburg]
Vaz da Silva's home at 4201 1st St. NE is said to smell of fetid trash and cat urine. The yard is unkempt, the walls are moldy and parts of the roof have caved in.

ST. PETERSBURG - Barring an emergency order from a judge, demolition crews on Thursday will start tearing down the one-story white masonry house that Nancy Vaz da Silva has called home for the past 35 years.

"Part of me is being destroyed," said Vaz da Silva, 69, who has paid $255 in weekly rent at a nearby motel since her home was boarded up in October. "I've got to keep that from happening."

No way, city officials say.

The house has been cited for code violations 14 separate times in the past 13 years. Parts of the roof have caved in. Overgrown shrubbery invades an unkempt lawn. The inside smells of fetid trash and cat urine. The walls are strewn with mold.

"Is that good? Should we let that happen?" asked Robert Miles, the city's building demolition coordinator. Demolishing the home at 4201 1st St. NE isn't about cruelty, he said, it's about personal safety in deplorable living conditions.

"It's unfortunate," he said, "but other houses have gone down in the same situation."

Now, 11 days before Christmas, Vaz da Silva is running out of options.

Unsafe, unfit home

It all started in 1971 when her parents, Helen, a housekeeper, and Manuel, a mason worker, purchased the home for $13,500.

In the years that followed, the daughter opted out of steady employment in favor of caring for her ailing parents.

Today, with no children and no family in the area, Vaz da Silva relies on a dwindling inheritance and credit card loans.

The closest relatives are back in New York and New Jersey, she said.

"No one seems to want to help me," she said.

The city condemned the building on April 29, 2005, declaring the house, valued at $155,400, unsafe and unfit for human habitation.

But in the 18 months that followed, Vaz da Silva continued living at the house. On Oct. 26 of this year, city code officers forced her to move out, boarding up the home's doors and windows with plywood.

Fight for her world

But Vaz da Silva still had options, city officials said.

She could have brought the house up to code. In addition, city officials say they offered her a $100,000 zero-interest loan to be used for demolition of the old house and construction of a new home.

She declined.

"She would have qualified," said Tom de Yampert, the city's manager of housing and community development. "She elected not to do that."

As demolition coordinator Miles put it, "she would want us to do it her way, and for the length of time she wanted to do it."

Vaz da Silva still refuses to give up the fight.

She is being counseled by lawyer Stephen Tourtelot of Tourtelot Bros. Realty in St. Petersburg.

He plans to file a request for an emergency injunction today, hoping to win more time before the scheduled demolition between 8 and 9 a.m. Thursday.

"It's hard to stop the wheels from turning," he said. "But we're going to give it a shot."

On Tuesday, Miles and partner Maureen Burke, two police officers, Tourtelot, and neighbor Jim Gisondi converged on Vaz da Silva's lawn.

There, through all the haggling and explaining, was Vaz da Silva, leaning against Tourtelot's BMW with tears in her eyes.

She said she was thinking about her parents. About how much she loved them. About how much she misses them.

"My whole world is in there," she said.

Casey Cora can be reached at (727) 892-2374 or at




[Last modified December 13, 2006, 08:59:28]

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