By J. NEALY-BROWN
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 13, 2001
TARPON SPRINGS -- Born and raised in Tarpon Springs, Alfreda Ingram was ready to anchor there as a homeowner in 1997.
Every time she found a piece of property in the mostly black Union Academy neighborhood, there seemed to be a roadblock. Either family members who inherited the land were undecided on selling or the city had bought the land, she said.
So she decided to expand her search outside the city's limits.
"I didn't find better property (in Clearwater). I just found this . . . land available there," said Ingram, a foreman who works for the school district.
Potential home buyers such as Ingram who found property in other ZIP codes could be one of the reasons why the Union Academy neighborhood in Tarpon Springs has lost more than 23 percent of its black residents in a decade.
According to the 2000 census, the decline in that neighborhood is three times sharper than the drop in the black population citywide.
Unable to pinpoint the cause of the decline, some who live and work in the neighborhood offer a variety of possible reasons.
"I believe it's a little bit of everything," said Donald Taylor, chairman of the Union Academy Neighborhood Oversight Committee. He has known more than a dozen people who have moved away to take advantage of home buying programs in other cities.
And "we've had a lot of funerals in our community," Taylor said.
Tarpon Springs Police Officer Ed Hayden, who has worked in the Union Academy neighborhood for 12 years, says he has known a lot of older people who died in the past five years, although he's not sure it's enough to account for the 23.4 percent drop in black residents.
But one of the most noticeable changes in the neighborhood is the ethnicity of residents in public housing.
"Public housing has become very diverse," Hayden said. He is seeing more white, Asian and Hispanic families around. Statistically, the numbers support what Hayden sees.
Pat Weber, executive director of the Tarpon Springs housing authority, said some of the recent changes -- mostly the preference given to those on the waiting list who are working and the option of paying a flat rent -- have changed the population.
"I don't know if that's had an impact on the race stats, but it has had an impact on the income," she said.
Strict enforcement of the rules and laws also has helped. "I think that's helped in attracting a different population to the housing authority," Weber said.
It is hard to tell whether the neighborhood is getting older. The 2000 census figures released do not yet have a breakdown of the population by age, other than whether the population is younger or older than 18.
But there are fewer young people. Taylor said he has watched more young people go off to college and the military: "There's definitely more opportunities now." The under-18 population among all races has dropped almost 11 percent between 1990 and 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
But there are some who doubt the numbers' accuracy.
"There's nothing that gives me any indication that those figures are correct. I just think that maybe there wasn't as good a job done as far as census-taking within the African-American community," said David Archie, executive director of the not-for-profit Citizens Alliance for Progress, which provides social services.
"I didn't see the drop from a standpoint of the type of services that's in the community," Archie said. His sense is that there are continuous births and the neighborhood is stable. "It seems like more and more are staying than people are coming in and leaving somewhere else."