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Hillsborough County to spend $10 million a year on affordable housing

Commissioners vote to create housing trust fund to build and preserve affordable housing with half earmarked for low-income poorest families.
Sweetwater Villas, one of the newest affordable housing complexes in Hillsborough County, was built through a county partnership with Blue Sky Communities. This week, Hillsborough County committed to make $10 million available annually for  an affordable housing trust fund.
Sweetwater Villas, one of the newest affordable housing complexes in Hillsborough County, was built through a county partnership with Blue Sky Communities. This week, Hillsborough County committed to make $10 million available annually for an affordable housing trust fund.
Published Sep. 6, 2019
Updated Sep. 8, 2019

TAMPA — Until he became homeless, Terry Lofton was spending more than half of his monthly disability check on the $500 rent for a one-room studio.

Now he is sleeping on his cousin’s floor.

“It’s embarrassing,” said Lofton, 61, who has recently worked as a security guard and housekeeper.

For the past six years, the faith-based group HOPE has battled to get Hillsborough County leaders to make a long-term commitment to provide housing for people like Lofton, who struggle with the Tampa Bay region’s rising rental costs.

So the group celebrated this week as the county’s new Democrat-majority commission pledged to set aside $10 million every year for an affordable housing trust fund.

The fund will be used both as a subsidy and incentive for the construction and preservation of affordable housing. Construction will be done through partnerships with non-profit groups and affordable housing developers. The money can also be used to purchase land suitable for affordable housing.

At least half the money must be spent on housing for low-income families. That includes 30 percent for households categorized as “very-low income.” Based on federal calculations used for housing vouchers, a household of four people would need a combined gross income of less than $33,500 to meet that criteria.

“Investing in ways to increase access to affordable housing is critically important to our communities,” said Commissioner Kimberly Overman. “When we don’t, we end up with homelessness.”

Recent studies have shown how difficult it is for Tampa Bay’s lowest paid families to keep a roof over their head.

The $1,133 average rent for a two-bedroom apartment here is well beyond the reach of minimum wage and other low-paid workers, a study released in June by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found.

A salary of $21.79 an hour — more than $13 above the state’s minimum wage — would be needed for that rent to be “affordable,” which is defined as spending no more than 30 percent of a person’s income on rent. Households that exceed that threshold risk spiraling into debt.

RELATED STORY: New study says minimum wage worker would need to work almost three full-time jobs to afford two-bedroom rental

The crisis has been exacerbated by the Florida Legislature continually raiding the statewide Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust. Since 2001, lawmakers have siphoned more than $2 billion from the trust into general revenue, according to a Senate report.

The money for Hillsborough’s new trust will come from the county’s general fund. Commissioner Sandy Murman said she is concerned a majority of the money will end up being spent inside the city of Tampa at the expense of unincorporated Hillsborough.

“We’re doing a huge favor to the city of Tampa by doing this,” Murman said. “The Mayor should be sending us a grand thank you note.”

But other commissioners said it makes sense to build affordable housing close to work centers and proposed transit routes expected to be funded by the transportation sales tax.

The creation of a housing trust fund is a significant u-turn for the county. In recent years, it made money available for low-cost housing — as much as $5.1 million in 2018 — but commissioners had been reluctant to make the long-term commitment required for a trust.

Commission Chairman Les Miller acknowledged that it was the persistence of members of HOPE, which is made up of members of local churches, that led the board to relent. Its members frequently packed commission meetings wearing purple HOPE T-shirts.

“Your tenacity on this issue for the last six or seven years has been frightening to a certain extent,” Miller joked. “You hung in there.”

The vote was welcomed by former Republican commissioner Victor Crist, one of the few members of the previous board who consistently voted for a housing trust fund.

“The cost of living has been growing significantly in Florida, most especially the Tampa Bay area, and the need for affordable housing has become very critical,” he said.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputy Alton Smith helps recover items Wednesday from Lake Twitt in Odessa during a dive team practice. Divers used the drill to search for evidence of a forgotten African American cemetery nearby. [CHRIS URSO   |  Times]
    Keystone Memorial Cemetery was established by a freed slave and disappeared in the 1950s. The dive team chose Lake Twitt to do its monthly practice.
  2. More than 44 percent of people who searched on ApartmentList.com for the Tampa Bay area from June to December were outside the region, according to a report from Apartment List. Percentages in the “Top Three Sources” box represent the share of searches coming from outside the metro area. (Apartment List map) [Apartment List]
    The region trails only Denver, Baltimore and San Diego for the percentage of people from outside the area searching for apartments on Apartment List.
  3. Facebook user Cornelius King posted this warning on November 19, 2019. Hillsborough County Sheriff says it is a hoax, but the viral message continues to spread online. [Facebook screenshot]
    A viral post encourages Florida drivers to run over people they see in the street to avoid being attacked.
  4. The sale of Tampa-based WellCare Health Plans to Centene Corp. is expected to close Thursday, the companies said on Wednesday. [File photo]
    The companies said Wednesday they have satisfied all regulatory approvals, including with the U.S. Department of Justice, for the merger to close.
  5. A bank vault that's in the basement of the old Franklin Exchange Bank building in downtown Tampa. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    Owner Carolyn Wilson hopes to keep alive the rich local history in the old downtown buildings she owns.
  6. Earlier today• Hillsborough
    Lynn Cristina is a Wesley Chapel momma with two girls and works full time as a marketing manager. [Courtesy of Lynn Cristina]
    There’s nothing like a cathartic breakdown in the Starbucks drive-thru to help a mom gain some perspective.
  7. Doug Bakke announced this week he’s leaving the race for Hillsborough County Clerk of Court. [Courtesy of Doug Bakke]
    A 26-year veteran of the clerk’s office, Bakke is chief deputy and head of the criminal division, but has not been heavily involved in politics.
  8. Addison Davis, the superintendent of Clay County District Schools, was chosen Tuesday as the new Hillsborough County school superintendent. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    The School Board’s vote is unanimous for Davis, who calls himself “an accelerator.”
  9. Smoke from the Levy County controlled burn travelled across three counties in order to reach Hillsborough. [VisitTampaBay.com]
    Commuters saw the smokey, hazy skies as they drove home. Strong southern winds are carrying the smoke from a prescribed fire in Levy County.
  10. Joseph Hernandez Hall is home to the University of Florida's chemistry department, where a faculty member recently resigned after officials discovered he failed to disclose his strong ties to China. While at UF, the faculty member also held positions at two Chinese universities, including vice president and dean. The faculty member was not named in a report obtained Tuesday from the Florida Legislature. [University of Florida]
    They also collected grant money from the U.S. government while never disclosing their outside work in China.
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