HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — A new effort to fix major infrastructure issues in the University Area neighborhoods near USF is revealing health concerns.
“We’ve found that residents in this community are really complaining about the quality of water in the community. What we’ve found is that a lot of those residents are on well water that’s contaminated," said University Area CDC CEO Sarah Combs.
Conditions at one apartment complex were so bad that mothers complained they couldn't bathe their children without the water giving them urinary tract infections.
The University Area CDC learned about the health risk during a series of community meetings where parents told them they had to take their children elsewhere for baths.
“We learned through testing of the water that there was high chlorine and high lead and it was very unsanitary," said Combs.
After citations, the landlord sold the property. It now has a new owner who fixed the problems, but the UA CDC says this is just a small example of what's happening throughout the area.
“That’s just something that no mother should have to go through," said Combs.
“We really feel strongly that this kind of health issue is not acceptable in this area and we’re really working hard to ensure that we can make needed infrastructure improvements to be able to mitigate that," she added.
The UA CDC is working with both the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County to begin to fix the problems.
The redevelopment in the University area is one of the largest projects in the state.
“We’re talking about sewer and water and lighting and sidewalks. Those things that are critically important in order to build a livable community. They have to be addressed first," said Combs.
When the UA CDC began acquiring property it realized there were issues with water and sewer in throughout the neighborhood.
“We found that a lot of the properties that we are seeking out don’t have access to water or sewer so in order to build on that we’re going to have to put in septic which is just not a good option for any resident in the community," said Combs.
The group also purchased a property with major flooding issues and huge trenches filled with water that pose safety risks for children. It's working with the EPA to figure out how it can fix the property.
The infrastructure issues are limiting progress.
The UA CDC says most properties are in poor condition.
“Being able to really try to figure out how do we improve those conditions so families aren’t living in homes that have mold spores the size of your hand and roofs that are falling in. We really have to address those issues in order to ensure that we have a fair and equitable community," said Combs.
The organization is currently working to bring together community stakeholders, government officials and agencies to figure out how they can work together to improve the area one block at a time.
The UA CDC is also looking for grants to make improvements.
The group just started a new working committee about three months ago with the City of Tampa to find out how widespread the infrastructure issues are.
However, the organization says the problem is so bad it, it needs a lot of help from the community.
“We’re looking for any engineers or anyone that would be helpful in volunteering your time and helping us really figure out the scope of the problem in the community. More hands are better than one and we’re stronger together than we are apart," said Combs.