TAMPA — This time last year, Hillsborough County received word that it had four months left to decide how to spend millions in affordable housing grant money or risk losing it.
The county failed to meet the deadline, forfeiting $2-million in federal grant money. The loss touched off a series of investigations into the county's Affordable Housing Office, and ultimately a federal probe.
A similar letter arrived from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Monday. At stake this year: At least: $2.9-million.
But affordable housing officials said Wednesday that this time will be different, they will get the money committed by the Oct. 31 deadline and restore a measure of confidence in the office among commissioners and the public.
"We knew this letter was coming," said Bill Armstrong, interim director of the office. "We know what we need to do, and the staff remains highly confident we're going to exceed the (requirement)."
In all, the county actually must settle on $3.5-million worth of affordable housing projects, including nearly $800,000 from another project that failed to meet federal rules.
The county has five years to actually spend the money, which goes toward everything from rehabbing apartments and building homes to providing down-payment assistance to low- and moderate-income families.
If successful, this year's commitment of federal grant spending on housing would be a record, said Howie Carroll, the affordable housing officer who has been on the hot seat.
The county already has received bids from contractors offering to do work that would exceed the $3.5-million, Armstrong said. Unlike in past years, most of the bidders appear to be ready to begin and able to meet federal guidelines.
Carroll said the slumping real estate market has done little to quell the need for low-cost housing.
"The housing market is still not affordable to people who have low or moderate income," he said.
Bill Varian can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3387.