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80-unit apartment project planned for migrants

The project on church-donated land will allow some farm worker families to escape "horribly substandard'' trailers.

By LINDA GIBSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 18, 2000


TAMPA -- A $6-million building project is under way near the eastern Hillsborough community of Dover that will move 80 migrant farm worker families from dilapidated trailers into new apartments.

The project will be built on a 34-acre site that houses the offices of a handful of social service agencies that provide day care, adult education, family counseling and legal aid.

"We're bringing services to their doorstep, spanning the whole plethora of needs they might have," said Joe Citro, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, which donated the land.

A market survey found 1,300 migrant families in that part of eastern Hillsborough County who were living in "horribly substandard housing," Citro said.

"We're not talking about a leaky faucet," he said. "We're talking about broken windows, no running water, no air conditioning."

Families have doubled up in these trailers because they can't afford the rent otherwise, said Rosa Ramirez, a social worker with the diocese. They also face eviction at the end of the harvest.

The apartments will give up to 500 people a stability in housing many have not experienced, Citro said. In addition, the diocese has sought to involve potential residents in the development phase through focus groups and town meetings over the past three years.

Migrants told them they needed three or four bedrooms for their large families, that they would like to have a place where they could fix and wash their cars and that their kids would love a soccer field.

As a result, the apartments will have from two to four bedrooms. There will be plazas between the buildings for people to gather, a 4,000-square-foot recreation center and a soccer field with lights so it can be used at night. The buildings will be designed to evoke Southwestern styles.

"We want them to feel they have a place of their own that they can be proud of," Ramirez said.

Part of the rent families pay will be put into an escrow fund available for down payments on houses.

"This will be stepping-stone housing," Citro said. "We don't want people to stay there for the rest of their lives. When people are up and on their feet, they'd make way for another family."

The hard part will be choosing which 80 families will be the first to move in, he said. That will be done by committee.

Groundbreaking should be in three months, Citro said, with construction taking another nine months. Funding includes a grant of $3.25-million from the Florida Department of Community Affairs, as well as federal and county grants and private sources.


-- Linda Gibson can be reached at (813) 226-3382 or at gibson@sptimes.com.

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