How can Tampa Bay grow with equity and sustainability in mind? An expert explains

Leroy Moore of Tampa’s Housing Authority and the Urban Land Institute speaks about how the region can include diverse voices in the development process.
Portrait of Leroy Moore of the Tampa Housing Authority and Urban Land Institute, Wednesday, September 15, 2021 in Tampa.
Portrait of Leroy Moore of the Tampa Housing Authority and Urban Land Institute, Wednesday, September 15, 2021 in Tampa. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
Published Sept. 20, 2021|Updated Sept. 21, 2021

The Tampa Bay area is exploding with multi-million dollar real estate projects on both sides of the bay.

Leroy Moore has seen firsthand the impacts these changes have had on the region so far as the head of Tampa’s Housing Authority and the chair of Urban Land Institute’s Tampa Bay division. ULI is a global organization for real estate professionals — from local officials, developers to land-use attorneys. Moore was also the chair of ULI Tampa Bay’s racial equity task force, which aims to better understand what impacts development has on communities of color in the area.

Moore spoke with the Tampa Bay Times about how Tampa Bay can grow sustainably and how it can include diverse voices in the development process. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Related: Is it better to buy or rent in Tampa Bay? Both come with hurdles

What are the biggest challenges Tampa Bay faces in terms of development?

Having lived in the Tampa Bay area now for 23 years, our biggest challenge has always been accommodating our growth. But that’s also our biggest opportunity. We’re a very growth-oriented state. And people love coming to Florida, not just to retire, but to experience life. Tampa, in particular, has seen extraordinary growth over the years. Our elected leaders over time have really come to really appreciate that and they realize the need to plan better and more sustainably — and also learn to really benefit from that growth. Growth means prosperity. Growth can also mean better inclusivity if it’s planned properly, like linking all of our different areas and taking that regional approach to major issues such as land use, transportation, job creation, and really realizing that we are stronger as a region as opposed to individual projects. ULI lends a force to that kind of inclusive planning strategies for everyone in our community.

Affordability is one of the biggest challenges for locals. How can the region grow, without displacing those who already live here?

My day job is providing housing for the workforce, providing housing for individuals who cannot afford the market rent, and ensuring that those communities are not left out and forgotten. So as growth continues, the pressures of the market can work against affordability. And it certainly has. It’s not unique just to Tampa. It’s simply the way the market and factors work. But with good planning and building the right partnerships, we can bring back communities so that they represent more than just single economic groups. Our role at the Housing Authority is providing for low-income family housing, but it’s also providing for workforce housing, and more importantly, providing for the community. A good community means a diversity of housing, a diversity of uses, diversity of people, so that we never find ourselves in sort of segregated patterns of development that has plagued the way we we live for about a century now.

A lot of people in low-income housing end up spending more on transportation costs than they do on housing. We can control the housing costs for individuals by setting rent at no greater than 30 percent of their income. But if they own a single automobile or more than one automobile, the cost of insurance and the cost of fuel and the cost of repairs, that automobile can easily exceed 30 percent of their family income, and in some cases can be 40 or 50 percent of a person’s income. So it’s vitally important that we work on transportation.

How can developers be incentivized to break past segregated patterns?

It’s not just a matter of incentivizing developers. Developers want to develop and they want to make a reasonable profit. That’s possible to do without a lot of the practices that got us to where we are today, but it does require strong political leadership as well as policy that requires responsible development. Responsible development should be inclusive of the people who live in your population. It should not restrict owners from being able to live affordably on land that they own. It’s not a matter of going to find land to build something new, but how you take what’s already in place, and make it more sustainable and make it more affordable.

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The single-family zoned areas is one focus that can be looked at again from a public policy standpoint. How do you allow, not mandate, for single-family homeowners who want to add an additional dwelling to bring either other family members or a tenant to live there? They’re creating additional stream of income for that family budget. Other communities have actually found quick solutions to that. And I think our community started to studying that and embrace the possibility of allowing accessory dwelling units on existing single-family zoned properties.

What are some ways to get more diverse voices from the community in the development process?

A lot of our progress has come in the last 18 months or so. Zoom has become so widely used by both governments as well as planners and developers, to engage with the community. We’re doing it because of the inability to physically get into communities. When you physically have to go to a place and allow people to come to you, you’re burdening people from a transportation standpoint. Figuring out the time of day to hold a meeting, when you can actually have very productive virtual sessions like this that can be recorded, and be listened to, digested and then responded to fairly easy by the population. So one of our best tools is virtual technology.

I also think it’s in the desire of the developer. And as a public-sector developer, it’s second nature to us. We’ve got a population, we’re going to disturb that population with redevelopment activity. We have to first engage with that population. These residents are our clients. You’re going to have your client included in the process. So public-sector developers are quite used to it. Private-sector developers are embracing it and getting used to it. The tools for that one is public policy. Not just encourage it, but require it.

What can the industry do to build up this next generation of diverse professionals to better represent Tampa Bay?

Last year, ULI Tampa Bay created a diversity, equity and inclusion task force. We have several individuals who are ULI members that go through a process of examining our local community and the industry of real estate professionals here and figuring out ways that we can actually bring in more diversity. From an educational standpoint, from a community involvement standpoint, and not just into its membership, but into the byproduct of our efforts as well into the projects that we are developing.

One of the biggest rollouts from our task force was embarking on a equitable development challenge that essentially encouraged our local membership, as well as others in the community, to join us on a 21-day journey and really look at some unique projects locally that can resonate with us individually, because we live here. This is a community we love. We’ve chosen to build our careers here and examine it from the social justice lens and understand why it is the way it is, and have a better appreciation for the plight of those developments that took place or the way it took place and why it needs to take place differently going forward. The best thing it did for our industry is that it gave us all an understanding of where we are and how we get how we can do better.