Sunday, January 21, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Rooting out rot in housing program

Hillsborough County should hit the pause button on reforming its housing program and investigate the indifference and incompetence that enabled slumlords to live off taxpayer money while poor people with housing vouchers were forced to live in unsafe and sickening conditions. If the county mismanaged the program so egregiously before, why should the public have any confidence that it can get it right this time by supervising charities to do a better job instead? There is no real fix without understanding the depth of the problem.

The Tampa Bay Times' Michael Laforgia and Will Hobson reported Sunday how the county's mismanagement of its Homeless Recovery program endangered the very people whom taxpayers were getting off the streets. During the past five years, the county paid for space in buildings in blighted areas of central and north Tampa where homeless people, including families with children, veterans, the mentally ill and the working poor, were lumped together in filthy, crime-ridden slums. Caseworkers sent these clients to live in moldy, bug-infested rooms where some had to live alongside sex offenders or step over puddles of human waste to a bed paid for by taxpayers.

The hardships that residents relayed show why some homeless people would rather take their chances on the streets. Residents put poison on their mattresses to kill bedbugs. A father of three found syringes on the bathroom floor. Since 2009, police or sheriff's deputies visited the rentals some 5,500 times, or once every eight hours for five years. They chronicled reports of more than 300 assaults and 150 thefts. One-fourth of the $4.3 million the county has spent in the past five years has gone to vendors whose buildings were routine hazards or hotbeds of crime.

The county responded to the Times' reports by replacing two senior managers and moving to outsource the housing program to nonprofit groups. That is a step in the right direction, but it's clear the operation was shoddy throughout the ranks. So why is the county guaranteeing that the staff members replaced from the housing program will find new jobs in county government? It is appalling that these conditions existed, yet no one else is being held responsible for failing to enforce any order or decency.

County Commissioner Les Miller should start focusing more on reforming the housing program than on insisting that these employees all but be guaranteed a job if the county farms out the program to the nonprofits. The county also should consider whether it has the expertise to help nonprofits build the capacity to take over the housing operation. The new standards requiring housing units to pass health and safety codes are a step in the right direction. But why did no one at the county have the common sense or initiative to address these horrid conditions that regularly existed for years? The problem was lazy employees as much as bad policies, and the county must correct both issues to ensure the poor are housed in a more humane and responsible way.

Comments
Editorial: Beware of social media targeting kids

Editorial: Beware of social media targeting kids

Ignoring all available evidence that screen time and social media exposure can be harmful to kids, Facebook recently unveiled a new messaging app targeting children under 13. It’s yet another battlefront for parents who have to constantly combat the ...
Published: 01/21/18
Editorial: Too soon for Tampa Bay to settle for buses over light rail

Editorial: Too soon for Tampa Bay to settle for buses over light rail

The good news on the transportation front is that Tampa Bay’s government and business leaders are working together like never before to connect the region’s largest cities, attractions and employment centers with a more robust mass transit system. Th...
Published: 01/20/18
Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

The smiles, applause and at least one hug belied the grim impetus for a gathering last week at a neighborhood center in Tampa — the Seminole Heights killings.The Tampa Police Department held a ceremony to thank those who helped in the investigation t...
Published: 01/19/18
Updated: 01/21/18
Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

The death last fall of a 20-year-old Florida State University fraternity pledge revealed pervasive dangerous behavior within the school’s Greek system. Andrew Coffey, a Pi Kappa Phi pledge, died from alcohol poisoning after an off-campus party, and a...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: Confronting racial distrust in St. Petersburg, one conversation at a time

The St. Petersburg Police Department’s heavy presence in Midtown on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the community animosity it stirred have raised a familiar, troubling question: Can St. Petersburg’s racial divisions ever be reconciled?That big ideal ...
Published: 01/19/18
William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

A surge of Democrats seeking local legislative offices and hoping for a "blue wave" in the 2018 election continued last week, led by Bob Buesing filing to run again versus state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa.In addition:• Heather Kenyon Stahl of Tampa has...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: State’s warning shot should get attention of Hillsborough schools

The state Board of Education hopefully sent the message this week with its warning shot about the slow pace of the turnaround at Hillsborough County’s low-performing schools.The board criticized the school system for failing to replace administrators...
Published: 01/18/18
Updated: 01/19/18
Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Published: 01/18/18

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18