TAMPA — Tampa Bay’s housing crisis converged with the Florida governor’s race on Tuesday as Democratic candidate Nikki Fried used two local apartment complexes as examples of how the runaway market has affected renters.
Fried held a news conference outside Silver Oaks Apartments, where residents and local activists said living conditions include rampant mold, rodents and plumbing problems. Multiple local news outlets, including WTSP-Ch. 10 and Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, have documented issues in the units consistent with these accounts. A resident also shared photos and videos with the Tampa Bay Times of mold and plumbing problems in their unit, including water flowing from the base of a toilet.
Fried said because Tampa Bay rent prices, like other places in the state, have been skyrocketing at a record pace, residents of places like Silver Oaks don’t have options of anywhere else to go. Residents of Silver Oaks generally have low income, and rent at the complex is subsidized by the federal government.
“Florida renters are being taken advantage of and this is flat-out wrong,” Fried said. “Here at Silver Oaks Apartments … management has flouted not just the federal rules but the rules of common decency and respect.”
Fried, who is currently serving as the commissioner of agriculture and consumer services, said she had not seen the conditions inside the units but has seen “slumlords” before.
She said Republicans’ decadeslong dominance of state politics has led to the neglect of issues like affordable housing, branding herself as a candidate “with the people.” She and other Democrats running to replace Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis have brought up the state’s affordable housing crisis frequently, saying it’s an issue being ignored in favor of culture wars.
Silver Oaks is managed by Cambridge Management Inc., which is based in Tacoma, Wash. Katelynn DeSart Perez, a spokesperson for the company, said in an email that Cambridge is “working directly with residents to resolve any concerns and encourage them to submit service requests via phone, email, at the management office, or through the resident portal.”
This isn’t the first time Cambridge Management has been called out by a Florida politician. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in June urging the agency to inspect all properties managed by the company after his staff visited a Jacksonville complex and found “a severe rodent infestation and chronic garbage overflow.”
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Rubio also said Silver Oaks received a “failing” score of 40 out of 100 on a 2020 inspection from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“We can’t keep living like this,” said Vonnesha King, a resident who spoke at Tuesday’s news conference, before she began crying.
LaShunda Davila said her 22-year-old son’s asthma has worsened during the time he’s lived in the complex.
“When he comes (over), he smells of mold, his clothes, everything,” she said.
Fried’s Tampa stop was part of a tour highlighting her plan to tackle affordable housing in the state, her campaign’s first policy rollout. The proposals include increasing homestead exemptions to up to $100,000, directing the attorney general to investigate aggressive landlords for price gouging and converting former hotels and motels into inexpensive units.
At Silver Oaks, residents also recently received a letter notifying them that, starting Tuesday, their units would be undergoing a “housekeeping inspection,” and any resident whose apartment was not found in “acceptable safe and sanitary condition” could have their tenancy terminated, according to a copy provided to the Times.
DeSart Perez, of Cambridge Management, said the inspections are a “routine part of maintaining the apartment homes and are intended to identify and resolve any maintenance concerns.”
Tampa activist Connie Burton alleged the management’s behavior, including the inspections, has been retaliatory against residents.
Fried said she would see if anything could be done within her department to help residents.
Fried also made a stop in St. Petersburg at the former site of the Stanton Hotel and Stanton Apartments, at Second Avenue N and Third Street. Residents there, who were also low-income, were required to vacate the property starting late last year after the building was sold, likely to become a boutique hotel.