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  1. Opinion

Tampa mayor’s affordable housing plan is a smarter approach | Editorial

Mayor Jane Castor calls for more resources, creative ideas and bigger role for private sector.
Tampa's downtown construction boom, as seen here in December has in some ways exacerbated the city's affordable housing crisis. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
Tampa's downtown construction boom, as seen here in December has in some ways exacerbated the city's affordable housing crisis. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

Tampa is taking a smarter approach to housing that would benefit residents, neighborhoods and employers alike. A combination of new financing and regulatory changes could expand the availability of affordable housing, helping residents build wealth under more stable living conditions that ultimately would benefit the entire local economy. There are challenges to converting this proposal into reality, but it’s an ambitious stab at a pressing problem that wisely involves both government and business.

The new strategy, unveiled this week, emerged from one of several task forces Tampa Mayor Jane Castor appointed after taking office last year. Castor wanted input from housing officials, developers, lenders and community advocates on how to address this key campaign priority. The recommendations are a fresh take that should unify and sharpen local housing efforts.

To start, the city would work with Hillsborough County to get a firmer grip on the scope of the crisis. How many housing units are needed - and what type and where - to meet the demand and in the years ahead? Tampa’s growth has accelerated the need for housing while also raising construction costs and depleting the pool of contractors interested in building affordable units. Last year, the report noted, only about five percent of the nearly 900 permits issued for new residential homes were pegged to units “classified as affordable housing.” The limited supply has fueled a cycle of rising rents, higher home prices and gentrification, especially in older neighborhoods, as investors and middle-income families compete with poorer residents for the same properties.

The plan calls for a variety of creative tools, from new housing trusts to acquire land and manage affordable housing dollars to a retooling of city codes to allow for newer micro-housing options, such as tiny homes and container homes, in some areas. It urges the city to collaborate with the county to maximize and leverage housing funds, and it calls for millions in seed money for new housing initiatives beyond the $10 million annually the city already distributes. The plan sets a target of thousands of new housing units over the next seven years for residents across a range of incomes, including families in poverty and moderate earners seeking workforce housing. And it reinforces the essential role mass transit plays in creating safe, vibrant communities.

The recommendations are fresh and recognize the comprehensive scope of any solution. They urge developers to propose village-style housing as a potential for smaller lots. Employers are encouraged to provide housing assistance as part of an employee’s compensation package. The city would work with nonprofits and home improvement stores to help homeowners rehab their properties, keeping older housing in shape and in the mix. “The housing affordability plan has to look across the entire spectrum,” Castor said Thursday. “The city can’t do it alone.”

These are substantive changes, and the focus on integrating services now provided by dozens of government and private entities will make a more efficient use of limited resources. In making this a visible priority, the mayor creates a rallying point for a vital cause.

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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