Robles Park Village is a 433-unit public housing complex in Tampa Heights, Florida, near Ybor City. After months of inspections, city officials found that a small portion of this community was built on top of Zion Cemetery, a historic Black cemetery, forcing 88 units to be vacated to move forward with cemetery preservation processes. Following several surveying sessions, the remaining Robles Park residents were told by Tampa city officials that their homes were set to be demolished.
The Tampa Housing Authority along with Baker Barrios Architects and Property Markets Group announced a “master plan” for the Robles Park Village, which is set to include over 1,000 new houses, resource facilities, and a Zion Cemetery memorial site. The Tampa Housing Authority reports that 85 percent of the new development will be “affordable rental housing,” while the remaining 15 percent is set to be at market-rate or higher with 77 luxury townhouses lining the property.
The Tampa Housing Authority and developers report that residents of the complex were consulted throughout the process, but Ms. Tomica, a resident, tells a different story: “We still don’t know what’s going on!”
Plans have remained a mystery to the people whose homes are set to be demolished. An unresponsive local government has forced residents to take action.
Reva Iman, a Robles Park Village resident and President of the Resident Council with the Tampa Housing Authority says that she regularly canvasses the community and hosts events within the complex to keep her neighbors informed.
Iman was essential in forming the Robles Park Tenants’ Association, which has recently shifted focus to relocation education, helping to collect information from residents to help make the process easier for as many people as possible.
Ms. Tomica was frustrated by the news that she would be forced to leave her community. “They’re destroying our homes and the whole time they’re going to rebuild on this cemetery anyways,” she said. Ms. Tomica is a mother, a grandmother, a licensed notary, an at-home daycare supervisor and the founder and current board member of a community-oriented non-profit. “It’s designed to push us out as far as possible,” she said, citing that the nearest Section 8 housing of the same quality is near Riverview, Florida, a nearly 30-minute drive.
She described her neighbors as people just trying to “make it work.” Many of the residents at Robles Park are young mothers without access to livable-wage jobs or childcare, leaving them without options. “Do you go to work every day just to barely make it or do you stay at home with your children and collect food stamps to live?”
In a public interview, Tampa mayor and former police chief Jane Castor said that the complex has “outlived its usefulness,” citing maintenance issues and exterior aesthetics.
Iman also spoke of worsening conditions in the complex — decades-old plumbing, outdated utilities, unreliable AC, and pest issues that make the property unlivable. This is ultimately an insult to the working people of Robles Park Village, that rather than repairing issues within their homes, the city would rather allot an undetermined amount of money on a project that will displace over 400 people.
This story is not uncommon in Florida. As Tampa Bay faces the highest rent increases in the nation, local government and developers are jumping to profit from the forced relocation of current residents.