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Study tracks tenants from public housing

Uprooted from homes about to be razed, where did they go? How have they coped? Researchers offer a glimpse.

By GRAHAM BRINK

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 20, 2001


Uprooted from homes about to be razed, where did they go? How have they coped? Researchers offer a glimpse.

TAMPA -- Hundreds of people relocated from public housing at Ponce De Leon Courts and College Hill Homes in recent years when the decision was made to tear down 1,300 units at the aging complexes.

Did the relocation have unforeseen consequences?

Preliminary findings released at a meeting Wednesday by several University of South Florida anthropologists studying the issue painted a mixed picture.

The researchers analyzed where in the county the people relocated to and the demographics of those neighborhoods. Many ended up in other public housing complexes or along the Nebraska Avenue corridor next to Interstate 275 where lower rents can be found. They also interviewed 24 women who relocated to various areas.

Africana studies professor Cheryl Rodriguez said she and the other researchers had received some positive feedback about the relocations. On the other hand, most of the women expressed concerns about everything from fragmentation of services to the safety of the new neighborhoods to the lack of any sense of community.

"There was a lot of unhappiness, a major sense of loss," Rodriguez said.

Many of the residents had lived in the neighborhoods for many years, building up support networks. Some women, for instance, had provided day care services in the old complexes. Now that the residents have dispersed, those women cannot earn that income. Others have trouble finding adequate public transportation or telephone availability.

The researchers were also concerned that the plans to replace razed public housing will leave some families scrambling again for an adequate place to live.

"It looks like a game of musical chairs," said anthropology professor Susan Greenbaum. "And once the music stops there won't be nearly enough chairs."

The findings irked several Tampa Housing Authority officials and others in the audience, who pointed out that College Hill and Ponce De Leon were communities with dilapidated houses and high crime. The relocations may not have been perfect, but the anthropologists' findings need to be considered in light of how bad things were to begin with, they said.

Rodriguez and Greenbaum assured the audience that it was not their intention to vilify anyone at the Housing Authority. The findings, they said, were only preliminary and more research is going to be done.

If Tampa is awarded the 2012 Summer Olympics, the scope of the demolishing and building will "hugely intensify," Greenbaum said.

"We mainly hope that our research can help improve the relocation process," she said.

- Graham Brink can be reached at (813) 226-3365 or brink@sptimes.com.

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