Did Tampa Port Chief And Slumlord Get Public Funds For His Filthy Hovels? Would You Believe 'Yes'?
You may recall the saga of William "Hoe" Brown, the chair of the Tampa Port Authority and big-dollar GOP fundraiser who also ran afilthy mobile-home slum on a commercial property that wasn't zoned for rentals -- at least until the Tampa Bay Times detailed the "unlivable conditions" in the trailers, which were filthy and infested with roaches.
Well! Time for a couple of updates! The good news is that after the scandal broke in July, Brown shut down his slum and was shamed into resigning his unpaid but influential positions on the Port Authority and several other civic boards. The bad news is that bad news continues to trickle out -- like sewage from a leaky septic system -- about just how scummy this guy's business practices were, including another Times story on Saturday, revealing that Brown collected some $600,000 in rent since 1998 from a Hillsborough County agency that provided temporary housing for homeless people. But there's even some good-ish news there -- we won't go so far as to call it Nice Time -- in that the agency will now reform its procedures to make sure it's not sending poor people to live in filthy hovels, so one cheer for that at least.
The county paid for poor people facing homelessness to stay in a variety of rental locations through a program called Homeless Recovery; Brown was "one of dozens of landlords" the agency referred clients to. Managers of Homeless Recovery claimed that
the agency does not refer clients to specific properties, and they've never gotten a complaint about Brown's property. Neither is true, according to hundreds of emails reviewed by the Times.
County workers routinely sent clients to Brown's Seminole Heights properties, where instances of violence, drug use, prostitution and other crimes have been chronicled in public records since at least 2005.
Homeless Recovery also said that they were too short-staffed to inspect the properties they send clients to, and we can sort of sympathize with them for assuming that most landlords they contracted with were not, you know, total sleazebags. Then again, Homeless Recovery should have been aware of the risks of working with a population that's perpetually at the fringes of honest society -- obviously, we mean landlords.
After agreeing to, and then cancelling, an interview with the Times about the agency's payments to Brown, Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill announced changes to be made at Homeless Recovery, including an audit, a move to a new administrative department, and making sure that rental properties meet building and sanitation codes. Hooray for minimal standards!
Despite the agency's denials that they referred clients to particular landlords, the Times story shows that emails between Homeless Recovery and Brown were fairly common, with Brown advertising vacancies and the agency asking if any places were available. In a memorable bit of hair-splitting, one of the managers, Jim Silverwood, explained that merely sending clients to Brown did not meant that Homeless Recovery had "referred" them:
"Ultimately it is the client's choice as to whether they want to stay at a place or not," he wrote in an email to the Times.
Once more, we urge you to read the whole sickening thing; it's awful, but also an example of what really good local investigative journalism can accomplish: Thanks to Will Hobson and the Tampa Bay Times, a slumlord is out of business, and an agency that seems to have been doing a lackadaisical job has been pushed to get its act together. If we weren't hopelessly overwhelmed by cynical detachment, we'd even call it a case study of why we need an aggressive, professional local press. On the other hand, we have outfits like Tucker Carlson's Home for Rabid Shit-Stirrers, which has a story today explaining that teachers are such slobs that the Little Rock School District has to have a dress code "that will require teachers to wear underwear." We bet that will have a serious impact, too.
[Tampa Bay Times via a tip from Wonkette Operative "BH"]
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