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Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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New homes bring hope to struggling Sulphur Springs

TAMPA — After spending months tearing down houses in Sulphur Springs, Mayor Bob Buckhorn now wants to build new ones to replace them.

City officials have put out a call for contractors to build houses to the city’s specifications in the neighborhood that has been the focus of city-led demolitions and aggressive code-enforcement operations.

The goal is to turn the long-troubled community around by seeding it with young families in homes they own, said Bob McDonaugh, the city’s economic development chief.

The construction will be subsidized by $1 million in federal funds Tampa received during the housing crisis to rehab foreclosed and abandoned homes. The houses will go up on lots the city already owns in Sulphur Springs, starting in areas close to the neighborhood’s elementary school and recreation center, McDonaugh said.

The city’s call for builders lays out the specifications for the modest houses: 1,200 square feet for a three bedroom, 1,300 square feet for a four bedroom; porches out front; and peepholes in the front doors.

“Nothing crazy,” McDonaugh said. “We’re not building McMansions.”

The city will ask builders to construct three to five houses at one time to make an impact.

“One by itself isn’t going to change a block,” McDonaugh said.

Houses would go for about $100,000. Each sale will be by conventional mortgage. Income from the sales will go back into the program to finance more construction, he said.

“The assumption is that we will lose some money on each house,” McDonaugh said.

A workshop Friday to discuss the project attracted 20 builders.

Kevin Robles, whose Domain Homes specializes in urban infill, said the project sounds promising.

“Renewing the housing stock is important,” he said. “If the city of Tampa can make it a better place to live, Sulphur Springs is a real beautiful piece of real estate.”

McDonaugh said the city has invested time and money in smoothing the rough edges of a community long known for its crime and poverty.

The Tampa Police Department has added patrols there, as has the city’s code enforcement division. Buckhorn added streetlights this year alongside his Nehemiah Project, which has torn down two dozen derelict homes in the neighborhood since January.

About 10 percent of Sulphur Springs’ residential parcels are vacant, according to Hillsborough County property records.

The city’s investments are aimed at changing that.

“We’re trying to get a bunch of new houses built in there, so you don’t have a bunch of missing teeth in the neighborhood,” said Tom Snelling, head of the city’s planning and development department.

The hope is that pouring public money into new houses and new owners will temper Sulphur Springs’ reputation enough to prime the pump for private investment, McDonaugh said.

“Sulphur Springs is a soft real estate market, and we would not get the participation if we asked (builders) to risk it themselves,” McDonaugh said.

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