West River Master Plan is not going to help low-income families

If the city wants to improve the area, it needs to first focus on social and economic improvements rather than aesthetic upgrades.

The West River Master Plan – a redevelopment project focused on revitalizing 120 acres of West Tampa between Hillsborough River, Rome Avenue, I-275 and Columbus Drive – has displaced over 800 residents living in North Boulevard and Mary Bethune public housing units. This effort is meant to replace areas with dilapidated housing and transform the urban region into a more “livable” area.

The Tampa Housing Authority (THA) claims those who have been relocated will be welcomed back to their homes once development is complete. However, this plan creates a process of gentrification and does not improve the lives of these residents. Growth and progress is stagnated for low-income families, while those who can afford to live in revitalized communities are able to benefit.

These acts of gentrification also rarely enable low-income residents to return. THA reports that less than 30 percent of the displaced actually return to their redeveloped homes. The West River Master Plan is part of Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s larger InVision Tampa plan, which is a citywide reinvestment strategy for Tampa’s urban areas. These plans aim to create a “mixed-income” development where residents of lower and higher incomes are welcome to live.

As these homes are renovated, property values are raised on previously publicly subsidized units. When the low-income families relocated from these units eventually do not return, these developments are subject to becoming mostly market-rate housing, which further thwarts future lower-income residents from being able to live in homes that were originally designed to accommodate them. Renovation plans should continue to offer public housing when housing is improved, regardless of if the previous residents return.

To truly revitalize a community, a city should also focus on making social and economic improvements before physical or aesthetic upgrades. Michael Randolph, economic development director of the West Tampa Community Development Corporation insists that those who are displaced will have ample opportunity to return, but also reports that the income of more than one-third of West Tampa residents fall below the poverty level and the high school dropout rate is 28 percent higher than the rest of Tampa.

When a city funds efforts for improved housing without any focus on developing education or economic policy, the most vulnerable population it claims it wants to uplift becomes displaced into a similar or worse situation. Their social conditions do not improve.

According to WTSP-10 News, most families who moved from North Boulevard Homes ended up relocating to neighborhoods that are just as poor, such as areas around the University of South Florida and East Tampa.

Renovations should be made without gentrification. Housing is only one part of the equation to improving lives in Tampa. Creating more attractive neighborhoods should not take precedence over providing more resources for education and jobs within these communities. A “mixed-income” development would only serve to create a rent gap between residents, which would eventually polarize these developments for higher-income residency.

Such projects would gentrify these communities and make it harder for low-income people to live in and patronize the communities. Renovations serve to benefit those who can afford to live in the raised-value homes as lower-income populations become pushed out.

If the city wants to create progress for these families, social and economic well-being should be prioritized over attractive housing. Even if the displaced residents do not return, public housing should still be made available at these revitalized developments so future low-income families can participate in and enjoy the renovations that were originally intended to benefit them.