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Monday, August 27, 2012

A Tour Of Tampa’s Devastated ‘Suitcase City’

An abandoned home in Tampa’s “Suitcase City” (Here & Now)

One of the most poverty and crime-ridden areas in Tampa is now plagued by another scourge: foreclosures. The neighborhood is just west of the University of South Florida, and it’s known as “Suitcase City” because of its large transient population.

Some people lost their homes, some were sold mortgages they couldn’t afford, others are doing all right but are walking away from homes with values that have dropped below the mortgage.

A sign on the street in Tampa (Robin Young/Here & Now)

We took a tour with Sylvia Alvarez, a licensed realtor and executive director of the Housing and Education Alliance, a HUD-certified counseling agency helping the 15,000 homeowners in the Tampa Bay area facing foreclosure.

You need a guide, because as Sylvia explained, most real estate agents don’t display “for sale” signs anymore, because they don’t want the neighborhood to look blighted.

Alvarez took us along streets with abandoned, boarded-up houses and said that there are even alligators in some of the abandoned swimming pools.

“It’s taxed the animal shelters, all of the homeless shelters,” she told Here & Now‘s Robin Young.

This woman said that despite her house losing most of its value in recent years, she plans to stay. (Here & Now)

We stopped by the home of one woman who said that her house has been in the family for 50 years, but, along with other homes in the neighborhood, it has recently lost most of its value.

“I think everybody’s in the same position,” she said. “Some subdivisions out in Pasco County had $6-7000 homes that investors bought to flip around and ended up losing a lot of money. And now those good-valued homes are actually like living in a poverty-stricken community. People are losing their jobs, their homes and everything is falling apart.”

She says the homes in her neighborhood used to be worth around $120,000, but now they’ve fallen to values of just $30,000. Still, she plans to stay.

“This is my home,” she said.

Robin (right) speaks with housing counselor Sylvia Alvarez and Tampa resident Miguel, who said his $200,000 home is now worth less than $70,000. (Chris Ballman/Here & Now)

A man named Miguel, from Haiti, has also seen the value of his home plummet. In 2005 he put down $10,000 for the $200,000 home, but now the value is $60,000.

Alvarez says there is a better solution than the large number of foreclosures and abandonments she sees.

“I think banks need to sell these mortgages in blocks to investors but with requirements on them,” she said, “that we’re going to discount this mortgage to you, but you in turn have got to discount it to the homeowner. And try to work it out to where the homewowner stays in the house because every foreclosure hurts every other home that’s around it.”

Guest:

  • Sylvia Alvarez, a licensed realtor and executive director of the Housing and Education Alliance, a HUD certified counseling agency

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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