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Friday, Jun 22, 2018
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Boards are last barrier to blight

TAMPA — During the red-hot days of the housing boom, Mike Brooks built a lot of houses. Today, he boards them up.

This week, Brooks and a handful of workers set upon a house on Jefferson Street in Tampa Heights.

The 99-year-old structure has sat empty for a while now. The owner lives in Palm Coast, according to property records. After four years, foreclosure proceedings ended in February and the house was set for sale in April.

Inside, the house smells musty. The living room floor is littered with the detritus of prostitution and drugs.

“There’s some that’s a whole lot worse,” Brooks said, tipping back his wide-brimmed straw hat.

Brooks’ company, Just Build It, has boarded up 75 houses this year at the city’s request. This week, the Tampa City Council agreed to pay Brooks more than $9,000 for work on 11 properties done in the first three months of this year.

Each house got a set of white plywood covers nailed over the windows and doors.

The idea is to keep them from becoming havens for squatters and drug users. The house across the street from Brooks’ job site also is boarded up, as is one at the corner of Jefferson and Floribraska Avenue.

The work is less aggressive than demolition campaigns the city has pursued in Sulphur Springs and North Tampa. Those areas are plagued by abandoned and foreclosed houses that Mayor Bob Buckhorn has put squarely in the crosshairs of his Nehemiah Project.

The difference between a Nehemiah house and one of Brooks’ projects is the quality of the structure, said Jack Slater, who oversees the city’s code enforcement efforts.

“If it’s a public hazard, a public nuisance or a danger to the neighborhood, it’ll be demolished,” Slater said.

Also, if restoring the house will cost 75 percent or more of its assessed value, it becomes a candidate for demolition.

Otherwise, the house will be considered salvageable. Boarding them up can prevent the situation from getting worse, Slater said.

“The city proceeds with a lot of caution,” he said.

That could make a difference for the house on Jefferson Street.

Like other parts of Tampa Heights, Jefferson Street is showing signs of new life.

Houses a stone’s throw from Brooks’ project are neatly kept and well cared-for.

Brooks says it’s not out of the question that some urban pioneers might rescue the house he’s boarding up. It could cost them a lot, though.

City Councilman Frank Reddick, whose district includes Tampa Heights, said the Hillsborough County Circuit Court’s new monthly code enforcement dockets will push negligent owners to do something with their properties that will benefit the surrounding neighborhoods.

“We’re going to force them to maintain the houses or sell them,” Reddick said. “They’re going to have to do something.”

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Twitter: @kwiatrowskiTBO

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