TAMPA — More than 30 properties that housed clients of Hills-borough County's Homeless Recovery program have failed basic housing inspections by county code enforcement, some with problems so significant and costly to fix that landlords have opted to stop taking the tenants rather than correct them.
That statistic was one of several discussed Wednesday by county commissioners as staff described a plan to replace Homeless Recovery by Jan. 1 with a program that would put local nonprofits experienced with finding housing for the poor in charge of county money.
No official action was taken by commissioners, some of whom expressed dismay at ongoing revelations about Homeless Recovery and called for more accountability from whatever replaces it.
County staff plans to ask local nonprofits that help the homeless for their advice before bringing a detailed plan for an outsourced program to commissioners for a vote in a few months.
Homeless Recovery has drawn scrutiny over the last several months as the Tampa Bay Times revealed the agency sent clients, including families with young children, to live in dilapidated, crime-ridden properties, paying their rent with public money.
Homeless Recovery's manager and his supervisor said they didn't have the money or staff to inspect properties. Both left the county the week after a Sept. 8 Times article appeared.
Since then, county code officers have inspected 85 properties that housed the program's clients.
Officers found 46 of them passed inspections for basic housing elements such as functioning smoke detectors and safe electrical wiring, according to Robin Caton, program manager with county code enforcement.
Some units require further inspections, Caton said.
Of the 30 that failed, some had easily fixable problems. But a few landlords said they would rather stop taking Homeless Recovery clients than fix even those.
"They just didn't want to deal with it," Caton said in an interview after Wednesday's meeting.
Commissioner Sandy Murman called it "unacceptable" that an agency designed to help the homeless sent people to live in substandard housing, but expressed optimism in the plan to ask local nonprofits for help with designing a replacement.
"Ultimately, what we're looking for is a community solution for our homeless problem," Deputy County Administrator Sharon Subadan said. "This is what they do well."
Hillsborough has a shortage of "bridge housing," Subadan said — places where homeless people can live for a few months while they work toward self-sufficiency. Homeless Recovery's replacement program should try to fill this need, she said.
Commissioner Kevin Beckner said the county shouldn't decrease the amount of money it spends helping the homeless. Homeless Recovery has a budget of about $1.2 million this year.
"I want to make sure we are not cleaning our hands of funding such an important thing," Beckner said. "These are some of our most vulnerable citizens … so we must continue to do our part."
The county will not decrease spending on homeless aid, Subadan said, unless commissioners decide it should. Homeless Recovery's employees will be offered other jobs in the county, and the agency's Tampa office repurposed for another use.
Will Hobson can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.