You Paid For It: Hundreds wait for long overdue $26 million Tampa public housing project

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Plagued by crooked contractors, botched construction and even the weather, the much ballyhooed Tempo residential tower in the “Crown Jewel” Encore development has become the Tampa Housing Authority’s biggest boondoggle.

And it’s not over yet.

That’s a problem because there are 407 people on the wait list to move into the Tempo’s 203 units.

Of those units, 142 are dedicated to tenants in need of assisted-housing subsidies. Altogether, there are nearly 8,000 people on the THA’s citywide waitlist in need of affordable housing in Tampa.

The THA insists that its Tempo project partner Bank of America is now covering millions in cost overruns, not taxpayers, but the project still amounts to a useless asset without any rental income stream funded by $26 million taxpayer dollars long ago.

Construction on the Tempo began in 2014, but it’s still only 70 percent finished, even though it was supposed to be “substantially completed” more than two years ago.

“I would say we are doing the very best we can under the circumstances and we’ll continue to do so,” said THA Chair Susan Johnson-Velez.

Construction since last summer, when the original contractor estimated the project was 85 percent completed, has actually gone in reverse due to a list of about 80 “remedial” repairs identified by the THA’s current Tempo contractor Kast Construction.

Wednesday, THA Real Estate Manager Leroy Moore offered a brief but optimistic overview of the project.

“Continuing to rip out certain things,” Moore told THA commissioners. “But it’s really looking good from a daily basis. You can see the progression of the work there.”

“We want a perfect building and to get a perfect building they need to do everything they need to do to turn a building out that’s perfect,” said THA Executive director Jerome Ryans. “We don’t want any problems with this situation.”

But since the start of construction four years ago, there have a multitude of problems on that project.

Kast took over the job of building the seven story structure last year amid a raging legal battle pitting the THA and its development partner Bank of America against the original Tempo building contractor, Siltek Group Inc., and the project’s surety company.

According to a 389 page lawsuit filed by the THA, Siltek was managed by a “known fraudster” based in South Florida, Rene Sierra, who “devastated” the project with a toxic blend of bad decisions, penny-pinching and incompetence.

Sierra resigned from Siltek amid a federal corruption probe that ultimately led to his guilty plea and conviction for ripping off the federal government in a massive public housing construction scam in South Florida.

But the THA lawsuit alleges Sierra’s resignation was simply a shell game because his wife, Ana P. Silveira-Sierra, took over the company even though she had no construction experience or day to day involvement in the Tempo project.

By Rene Sierra’s own admission, she worked from home where her primary role was caring for Sierra’s children.

When the THA fired Siltek in June 2016 amid mounting construction problems and Sierra’s indictment, Ana Sierra formed a new company called Tron Construction LLC and immediately sought to continue working on the Tempo project with the blessing of the surety company that originally guaranteed completion under a $26 million dollar contract with THA.

Last summer, Kast began undoing damage from flawed construction and tropical storm rain damage to the open structure. That required stripping all of the stucco from the nine story structure and the removal, repair and replacement of every window and sliding glass door in the building because they all leaked.

That was just one of about 80 deficiencies that the THA claims it has to repair or re-do on the building before advancing toward completion.

Ryans says he’s confident the first 203 people on Tempo’s waiting list will be able to move in sometime this year.

But unlike last summer when Ryans enthusiastically told 8 On Your Side the message for prospective residents was to “get ready to move in, pack your stuff,” he’s no longer making any predictions on a ribbon cutting date for Tempo, with 30 percent of the project still incomplete.

“I’m not going to say ‘pack your bags,’” Ryans said Wednesday. “I’m not going to say ‘pack your bags.’”

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