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  1. Opinion

Affordable housing is starting to feel like an oxymoron in Tampa Bay | Editorial

Rendering of Avery Commons, a $15 million affordable housing development by Blue Sky Communities consisting of two buildings at 3900 34th St. S and 3319 39th Ave. S in St. Petersburg. [Architectonics Studios]
Rendering of Avery Commons, a $15 million affordable housing development by Blue Sky Communities consisting of two buildings at 3900 34th St. S and 3319 39th Ave. S in St. Petersburg. [Architectonics Studios]
Published Nov. 29, 2019
Updated Nov. 29, 2019

Here’s what $1,000 a month will get you in the Tampa Bay area. A new apartment on the third floor of a four-story building with what looks to be a new coat of paint and laminate floors that could be mistaken for wood. Sure, the porch screen is frayed at the edge and the elevator has a hole that could be from a bullet. And, yes, last year, a person living there may have fatally stabbed an intruder. But that’s all $1,000 a month might get a renter.

For Tampa Bay residents making far below the area’s median income or a little above it, the housing market is not much of a market. While almost 800,000 new renter households came to Florida from 2000 to 2017, the number of units renting for less than $1,000 a month fell in that time period. Nearly a third of Tampa Bay renters put more than 40 percent of their gross income toward rent, more than fulfilling the federal definition of “cost-burdened.”

If you qualify for public housing, here’s how the system doesn’t work

To be eligible for public housing in Tampa, a family of four must have a household income of no more than $34,000, which is about half of the area median income. But the Tampa Housing Authority has waiting lists of more than 25,000 people for public housing or a housing voucher, with an average wait time of up to 10 years. In Pinellas, almost 3,000 people are on the waiting list, creating what can become a five-year wait for a one-bedroom apartment. The housing system is not helping the people it is designed to help.

A view of the Tempo at Encore apartment complex in Tampa. [OCTAVIO JONES | TIMES]

After waiting years in the Tampa Bay area to receive a spot in public housing or a housing voucher, options are still limited.

Often, renters are turned away by landlords who will not accept public housing vouchers and say so explicitly in their listings. In Pinellas County, about 40 percent of vouchers are returned because tenants cannot find a landlord who will accept them, while in St. Petersburg, that lowers to 15 percent. The Tampa Housing Authority, which covers all of Hillsborough County, says their vouchers are traditionally not returned, which they attribute in part to their extension of vouchers to 180 days.

A screenshot from a Zumper listing of an apartment for rent in St. Petersburg [Zumper]

If you make around the area median income, here’s how the system doesn’t work

The Avanti with 326 units is among the many new apartment communities in the Downtown St. Petersburg/Kenwood submarket. [SUSAN TAYLOR MARTIN | Times]

The area median income in the Tampa Bay area for one person is $46,900. For a family of four, it is $66,900. Based on a standard of spending no more than 30 percent of your income on housing, which is the federal definition of “cost-burdened,” a single person making the area’s median income should spend no more than $1,172.50 a month on rent and a family of four should spend no more than $1,672.50.

But say you work downtown and want to live near where you work. Maybe you want a building with some amenities, like a pool or a gym. These are all reasonable requests, but to live in a studio in an apartment building near downtown, like the Avanti high-rise near Central Avenue, a single person making the median income would be priced out of any one bedroom option, with the lowest listed online at $1575 a month.

How do we solve this?

There’s no clear solution, but there are a number of small ways local governments can help. Streamline a better process so people can more easily go through the public housing system. Create more public housing opportunities that are actually desirable for tenants. Make affordable housing a priority in city and county governments, like the Clearwater City Council, which recently sold city-owned land near downtown Clearwater to a developer who will turn the property into 81 units for renters making between 30 and 80 percent of the median area income. Enact local ordinances that ban discrimination by “lawful source of income,” which includes vouchers. And create housing opportunities that serve those in the middle-class. For too many Tampa Bay families, affordable housing remains out of reach.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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