University Area residents want improved quality of life in neighborhood

Community leaders are getting a snapshot into what life is like in the University Area of Tampa. 

People who live in that part of Hillsborough County say things could be much better.

The University Area Community Development Corporation did a survey earlier this year of the concerns to address in the community, and more than 600 people, majority of whom are low-income families, responded with top concerns of affordable housing, better-paying jobs, transportation and healthy food options, said community engagement manager Diana Diaz.

“I don’t really like the grocery stores around here. I try to drive out because it’s costly here,” said resident Alanda Walker.

Walker lives a few blocks from the University Community Center where the University Area Community Development Corporation presented survey results Wednesday.

“It matters because people need a safe community where they feel supported,” said Diaz.

A community food garden is set up to help with access to healthy food, but it isn’t enough.

“I struggle with food desert because food desert means there’s no access to food. However, there are some grocery stores in the area. I’d say we’re more of a food swamp,” said Diaz. “So, there’s definitely food in the community; however, it’s not the healthiest food.”

Diaz said there is very low home ownership, and they are working with local non-profits to change that.

“One of the main concerns is even if they’re not paying a lot for the rent, the quality is not worth it. So, you have residents that have mold in their homes, windows that don’t open, have no air conditioning,” said Diaz.

Many people who live in the area said they want more bus routes and more stops.

“It’s hard for people that don’t have vehicles because now they have to walk a little farther out,” said resident Leslie Rodriguez.

Community leaders said they are doing what they can to make sure people here can thrive.

“When people see it and they say ‘Wow, I had no idea that was happening,’ that’s almost what we’re striving for with our residents,” said Diaz.

The University Area Community Development Corporation is fine-tuning the survey results and will finalize the report at the end of June. Diaz said they will keep checking in on the community’s needs every few years to see what can improve.