Recent Topics

Aerial view of USF campus

When is investing an act of charity? My work in Melrose Mercy.

Posted on 06/07/2013

A little over 18 months ago, I could no longer stand the modest pace of the progress in Midtown, so I decided to focus my efforts in the city's poorest neighborhood to see if I could help jumpstart a come back in Melrose Mercy. I have outlined on this website some of the programs that I launched or changed. Here I want to layout a few of the "investments" that I have made in the neighborhood. I realized going into this effort that I could not make money and do an effective job of using the houses that I rehab to encourage a neighborhood comeback. That was fine with me because neighborhood renewal is the goal.

Here are some concrete examples of the "investments" that I made in the Melrose Mercy neighborhood:

1) 1936 Melrose Ave S. Purchased Nov. 2011 for $15,800. Rehab cost $81,835. Rehab cost was high because termites required significant reconstruction including the porches, the bathroom and portions of the roof.
Because the possible sale price was no more than $65,000, I decided to rent it for $800/Month to a very nice lady. Happily, 3 houses have been rehabbed on the street since and another boarded house just sold.

2) 1734 12th Ave S. Purchased Dec 2012 for $28,000. Rehab cost $30,000. House is for sale for $55,000. Everything from roof to floor has been redone.

3) 1243 - 21st St. S Purchased in 2012 for $15,000 with intention of rehabbing. After spending $2000 on building plans, it became obvious that the termite damage was too severe to rehab. We demolished it for $3,000. I hope to get a new home built there. Currently, it is an expensive vacant lot.

4) 1523 Preston St. S. Purchased March 2013 for $19,000. Projected rehab cost is $30,000. There is another boarded home in foreclosure next door so I do not believe it can sell for more than $40,000 at this time. I plan to rent it out and hope that it's transition from a boarded home to a nice home on the street will cause a ripple and other homes will be improved.

5) Vacant lot in 1900 block of Melrose. I purchased a vacant lot on the same block that I rehabbed a house. At this point, we have simply cleaned it up and hope to be able to build on it at some point.

6) 1650 19th Ave S. I first saw this partially built house when I was going door to door after being appointed to council. It has a foundation, walls and plumbing stubbed in. Then, the builder went bust and abandoned it. Staff said there was nothing I could do at the time. A few years later after I pushed for choices, I was told it was possible to buy the tax deeds and in about 1 year force the sale of the property. I did that. No one else bid and so it became my responsibility. The problem worsened because the city had cut the grass and such during the intermediate years which resulted in 30,000 of additional liens. Since I am a city official, staff is reluctant to enter into the same kind of agreement that any other citizen can get which is if the new owner finishes building the house, most liens would be forgiven. Bottom line is that I am going to give this property to a non-profit who will finish building it. Money lost is about $7,000 less any tax deduction. The neighborhood will get an eyesore turned into an asset.

The nature of being in public office means that everything I do is looked at with a critical eye. Financial disclosure and public records require much of this to be disclosed. I wanted to simply layout the math so people understand this is no a money making venture.

Another complication I have found is that programs intended to help first time homebuyers and those to stimulate renewal are off limits for potential homebuyers and for me as long as I am in office. I am prepared to lose money in the neighborhood if it helps generate sufficient momentum to help the neighborhood comeback. It does however, make it more difficult to sell the home to a first time homebuyer. I will happily step aside once the momentum results in rehabs that provide decent housing for the neighborhood. My wife will be very happy when this happens as well.

Sustainability Council approved

Posted on 06/07/2013

The city council supported my request that we start a sustainability council and to apply for a Rockefeller Foundation grant to help fund it. Many people assume sustainability is only about the environment. That is not so. It is the effort to combine good policy for the economy, the environment, social equity and efficiency. Happily, the recession has provided me with many opportunities to find those projects that save money, are good for the environment and sometimes create local jobs.

Our goal is to assemble volunteers to help us develop policies and programs that are good for our environment, save money or the city and/or citizens and
promote good jobs.

As a community with a significant percentage of homes in various flood zones, we need to be on the lookout for ways to reduce our risk from extreme weather events like storm surge and hurricanes. When people live less than 10 feet above sea level, even modest sea level rise increases our risks. Therefore, we need to both plan and implement policies that lower our risks and increase our ability to recover if we suffer a hurricane or similar event.

It is always cheaper to avoid disaster than it is to recover from one.

Bartlett Park - help is coming.

Posted on 04/03/2013

UPDDATE: March 2013.

The continuing effort to assist in the turn around of Bartlett Park takes important steps forward this month with the purchase of 6 vacant lots and 3 houses by the city on 14th or 15th Ave S. This is an area where the city has already built or rehabbed several houses. The City's NSP3 funds will be used to rehab these 3 additional homes and to build new houses on the vacant lots. We have learned the critical importance of clustering rehabs and new houses so as to create a critical mass that then leads to the private sector taking over the process. Once that starts, the city can move on to another area.


The City has just received Neighborhood Stabilization funds to purchase, rehab and sell foreclosed homes in some of our struggling neighborhoods. I argued without success for many months during the first round of money in late 2009 and early 2010, that it made no sense to rehab or rebuild one house on block and not touch the other boarded houses on the same block. Naturally, the City is struggling to find buyers for those houses.

Fortunately, I was able to convince the Mayor to duplicate the lesson we learned when Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay rehabbed, with our help, several houses on Paris Ave in Bartlett Park. The street was turned around, crime dropped sharped, values increased and the improvements lasted. The Housing Department staff will target a few blocks on another street in Bartlett Park and rehab several houses. I expect that we will then sell the houses reasonably quickly and move to the next targeted area.

I will update this as concrete action approaches.


Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay is raising money to make improvements to 15 houses surrounding the area where the city will work. I believe we can create sufficient momentum to make a significant difference in the neighborhood.

UPDATE October 2, 2011

The "Paris Project" to improve many of the homes on 15th Ave South is coming together thanks to support from the Mayor, many city departments, Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay, Habitat for Humanity and the Urban League. I believe this is the model of how to have real impact in a community. The scattergun approach that has been traditionally used is incapable of bringing the transformative change that many neighborhoods need and is a staggering waste of public and private money. We will launch this project as soon as all the pieces are in place to transform this street.

Bank on St. Petersburg - Approaches 2,000 new accounts.

Posted on 03/03/2013

Bank on St. Pete was my baby in 2009. The effort to bring mainstream banking and financial literacy to underserved neighborhoods has outgrown me! The project has become BANK ON TAMPA BAY and is reaching out to people on both sides of the bay. The United Way has assumed the lead role in this effort with consider resources and energy. It is gratifying to see an idea grow to serve our region.

My effort to bring the 18,300 households without banking services into the financial mainstream was announced at City Council on January 15th. We will be bringing a program from San Francisco that brought 24,000 households into mainstream banking services and away from the predatory check cashing and
payday loan businesses within 24 months.

This program potentially represents the single greatest thing that a local government can do to raise the standard of living of the 15% of our community that uses the loansharks and predatory cash checking services. Studies suggest that this segment of our community spend up to 5% of their income on
these ripoffs that we can help them avoid.

It will be a coalition of the City of St. Petersburg, the banks and the "wealth building coalition" that will bring these services to the community. The City's role is to make it happen, insure a good product
and get the word out. Ten other cities across the country are also bringing
this service.

UPDATE: Mayor Baker and Council Member Nurse have invited the banks and credit unions to meet on February 2nd in hopes of getting many of them to commit to this program. The offers to help are coming in everyday. The
final element needed to make this work is a financial literacy campaign so people learn to plan and budget their money.

UPDATE 2/18/09 Over 100 people filled a room at City Hall to kick-off the Bank on St. Petersburg program. 22 financial institutions were represented.
Committee will be meeting starting next week to work out the details of bringing this here. Getting the 15% of our community into the mainstream financial community can have more impact than any other program.

UPDATE 3/21/09 - I spent a day in Washington on the 15th with leaders from about 20 cities who are working on the Bank on .. projects. The goal is have the first cities teach the newer onces, like St. Pete, so we can learn from their experience. We are working through the details so we can implement this
quickly with as few problems as possible.

UPDATE 7/20/09 - August will be the launch of the Bank on St. Petersburg program. We have 15 banks and credit unions going through the final steps to
be ready to open their doors to more customers. Everyone wins with this program.

UPDATED Feb 2011
The program had brought 1,600 new customers into the mainstream banking system after the first year. The pace is picking up and financial education is being added to programs and in classrooms around town. Getting into the mainstream banking system is the first step into financial security. Thanks to the banks, credit unions, wealth building coalition, and other partners for helping this reach more people each day.


Bank on St. Petersburg has enrolled more than 2,00 new customers into the mainline banking system so far. A majority have also taken financial literacy training and have opened savings accounts. Many are laying the foundation for responsible home purchases.

All Topics »