In 2010 the city had 2,536 vacant properties registered. In 2011 it went up to 3,325. And currently there are now at least 4,316 foreclosed properties in the city.
In some communities, housing activists and members of the Occupy movement have spurred a movement to squat in such foreclosed homes.
In discussions with neighborhood leaders in the V.M. Ybor district, Tampa neighborhood services director Jake Slater said the issue of squatters taking over vacated properties is particularly vexing in that area, with arson and crime an offshoot of the problem.
That was one reason why the city chose that area north of Ybor City to be the area for a pilot project on how to stem the squatting in those homes (The area is divided between I-275 on the west, 26th Avenue to the north, 15th Street to the east, and I-4 to the south).
Tampa officials say they took an inventory and found 135 vacant properties in V.M. Ybor. Then they sent letters to property owners on July 20, asking them to sign a trespass affidavit that would give the Tampa Police Department the authority to arrest anybody who was found inside their property unlawfully. They were also asked to post an "order to vacate" to be placed on the front door of the property, further enabling the police department to arrest eject unwelcome visitors. They gave property owners 15 days to respond.
Slater said the city received back approximately 108 letters, and 12 signed affidavits. Ultimately they've posted 88 "order to vacate" signs on those vacated properties.
"It's a way to deal with the vacant foreclosure problem" Slater said.
Councilwoman Lisa Montelione inquired if the program would expand to other areas that have been deleteriously affected by the foreclosure crisis? "I'd like to see this program, after you've got some data...to move it into other areas."
Slater agreed, saying the city wants to take the plan city-wide.
Montelione said there has been an issue of people moving into foreclosed homes "seemingly with the approval of the homeowner," when in fact the homeowner has left the area and isn't aware that somebody has moved into their property, nor the bank that owns the house. She asked Slater if the new program would address that issue.
"We haven't made that jump yet," Slater responded.
The top two neighborhoods in the city in the number of foreclosures is New Tampa and Sulpher Springs.