Civitas: Let The Process Play Out

In the best of all possible worlds, there would be no need for public housing.

In the next best of all possible worlds, there would be enough public money to build, maintain and rebuild quality subsidized housing, and there would be residents who said, in effect, “Thanks for the helping hand, and now we’ll take it from here and do our part.”

So much for those Panglossian scenarios.

Here’s the best we can expect. Some form of imperfect, public-private partnership. Those with a profit motive to accept risk and invest in something that can do more than merely maintain a suspect status quo.

But here’s what usually happens.

New and improved public housing replaces the dilapidated — only it’s still mired in the midst of an economically deprived, crime-ridden, drug-infested, eyesore environment. And, yes, incumbent residents — all poor, mostly minority — get displaced. Eventually the nicer housing is no longer nice. Many of the tenants have created a generational legacy of dependence.

Eventually the cycle is simply repeated — if there’s enough public money available.

If nothing else, the 157-acre, mixed-use, private sector-driven Civitas project — warts and all — represents a pragmatic, positive opportunity to break from the largely ad hoc, band aid norm. Hope VI federal grants were fine as far as they went — not nearly far enough. Moreover, they are now all but phased out.

There were plenty of reasons for healthy skepticism about Civitas without resorting to ad hominem attacks on its leader, Ed Turancik, or conjuring up ersatz civil rights scenarios over the “whitenizing” of a major Tampa corridor. With its sub rosa real estate accumulation, a compressed, rush-to-vote time line and need for special taxing authority, Civitas didn’t make it easy on the mayor, city council, the housing authority or the county commission.

None of the above reasons, however, justified not signing off on a process that would still leave a lot of hoops in front of it. And it would have improved Tampa’s chances of landing a final Hope VI grant to replace the 28-acre (and Civitas centerpiece) Central Park Village. In addition, Mayor Pam Iorio had gained enough concessions from Civitas to feel comfortable in letting momentum continue. City Council and the Tampa Housing Authority followed suit.

No obligation, no endorsement. Civitas, they were saying, in effect, was just too good an opportunity to summarily dismiss because the process was flawed.

But once again, the county commission lived down to its reputation. Getting creative and cooperative in trying to revitalize a neighborhood — not just raze and rebuild a public housing project — was beyond its collective vision. In a pinch, it can be counted on to get parochial, personal and persnickety. To wit:

*Pat Frank is intransigent about dispensing public funds to investors for infrastructure needs.

*Jan Platt isn’t comfortable with capitalism.

*Ronda Storms — of all people — doesn’t like being “bullied.” And while we’re deep in disbelief — neither, presumably, does she like testy exchanges.

The Civitas project may yet reincarnate. Turancik & Co. has a lot of land, some heavy-hitting investors and time to reflect on what happens to Tampa’s Hope VI grant proposal.

Then again, Civitas may not happen at all, and most pundits, self-appointed civil rights spokespersons and some county commissioners can claim credit that “Son of Olympic Bid” will not be foisted on Tampa.

In which case, it would hardly be cause for celebration. For just north of downtown there would still be this really big slum.

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