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The shift in the African- American population was in part due to a soaring economy and demolition of public housing.
By BILL COATS
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2001
TAMPA -- Neighborhoods in Hillsborough County became less racially segregated during the 1990s, according to U.S. census statistics released this week.
Of the county's 249 census tracts, only four majority white tracts became more white during the decade. Only 71 tracts had populations that were 80 percent white or more, compared to 141 such tracts in the 1990 census.
"I would say that the African-American population is definitely more dispersed than it was in 1990 and than it was in any other decade," said Jim Hosler, research director of the county's Planning Commission.
He said one factor may have been rising incomes during the 1990s economic boom, which enabled blacks to move into apartments and homes in neighborhoods previously affordable chiefly to higher-income whites.
"The gap between white and black incomes probably has narrowed over the years," said Warren Dawson, a prominent lawyer in Tampa who is African-American. "With that added buying power, it has permitted a broader choice of housing and other things people buy."
Dawson said the practice by real-estate agents of blocking blackhomebuyers from white neighborhoods hasn't disappeared, but has diminished, perhaps because it's illegal.
The overall trend "reflects some relief from previous notions of segregated housing, which really is a legacy of legally required segregation," Dawson said.
Earlier in the last century, African-Americans clustered in housing close to Tampa's factories so they could walk to work, Hosler said. Segregation by jobs amounted to segregation by race.
"Now African-Americans have the same degree of mobility that anybody does," he said. "They can live anywhere."
Another factor, peculiar to Hillsborough, was last year's demolition of College Hill Homes and Ponce De Leon Courts, public housing projects in Tampa. That forced the relocation of 1,100 families, most of them black.
Many moved northward to inexpensive housing near the University of South Florida, Hosler said.
A study by the Hillsborough County School District soon concluded that half of the children leaving schools near College Hill and Ponce De Leon were enrolling in schools near USF.
Census numbers released Tuesday reinforce those findings. The nine census tracts reflecting the greatest influxes of black residents all are clustered south and west of Busch Gardens, USF and Temple Terrace. Three of the four census tracts losing the most black residents were near the demolished housing complexes.
Overall, Hillsborough County was 63 percent white and 15 percent black. Hispanics can be of any race.
Hosler said the scattering of African-Americans will increase the challenge of reapportionment, the redrawing of boundaries for congressional and legislative districts. Tuesday's census releases were timed to allow that process to start. A key question, politically and under civil rights rules, is whether the voting power of black residents in each district has been massed or fragmented.
Despite the trends the county still has 23 majority black census tracts, including five near downtown Tampa where African-Americans constitute more than 80 percent of the residents.
In contrast, the most heavily white tracts are far to the southeast near Sun City Center and Riverview, with white populations exceeding 90 percent.
- Bill Coats can be reached at (813) 226-3469 or firstname.lastname@example.org.