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Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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New Tampa housing chef has ‘tremendous task’ ahead

TAMPA — Tampa’s housing and community development program has a new director after nearly two years without one.

She’ll have her work cut out for her, city leaders say.

Vanessa McCleary from Rocky Mount, N.C., took over this week as head of the agency charged with helping Tampa’s low-income residents find new housing or rehab their existing homes.

She arrives just as Buckhorn is pressing ahead with plans to redevelop the west bank of the Hillsborough River and to build new market-rate homes in Sulphur Springs to replace the decrepit ones he is tearing down through his Nehemiah Project. McCleary will be part of both those efforts.

“The work that’s up in Sulphur Springs is going to be very important,” said Tom Snelling, McCleary’s boss in the planning department. “East Tampa still remains a very important neighborhood for the mayor.”

Councilman Frank Reddick, whose East Tampa district includes many of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, said McCleary can’t move quickly enough.

“I hope she gets started on a fast pace because we’re having a lot of problems,” Reddick said. “She has a tremendous task ahead of her.”

In Rocky Mount, McCleary developed a reputation for working with the city’s banks to provide low-interest loans and other financial help to those needing housing help.

She holds a bachelor of science degree in human service and is also a certified home specialist and housing counselor.

McCleary’s office is part of the city’s planning and development division. She’ll oversee a budget of about $11.5 million, most of it federal money. Her starting salary will be $95,000.

Her office isn’t part of the Tampa Housing Authority, which is a stand-alone agency that builds and operates several subsidized housing developments across the city.

McCleary takes over a department heavily dependent on an ever-shrinking supply of federal housing dollars. The program relies on a variety of anti-poverty programs from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In recent years, the city has used federal funding, including the Neighborhood Stabilization Program — created in 2008 to rehab foreclosed and abandoned homes — to create new affordable housing with the help of nonprofit groups such as Mental Health Care. Those funds ran out last year.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn said he expects McCleary to bring in new grants and funding from private banks to support the housing program.

“Our relationship with the private banks is not what it should be,” Buckhorn said.

Buckhorn said he also wants McCleary to team up with the East Tampa Community Redevelopment Area to find ways to use tax revenue there to improve housing.

McCleary said in North Carolina and, before that, in Delaware, she found ways to invest in the community as a way of meeting federally mandated requirements.

“Banks are obligated to reinvest in the neighborhoods where they take deposits,” McCleary said.

In North Carolina, she worked with PNC, BB&T and Wells Fargo. All those banks have large footprints in Tampa.

McCleary said she isn’t concerned about the shrinking influence of federal housing money in the city’s community development program. The city can work with builders and real estate agents to find private resources.

“There are other ways to make up for lost revenue,” she said. “People were able to buy houses and repair houses before, regardless of whether there was government money to do it.”

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