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Hurrah for veterans housing in Seminole | Editorial
Also on this week’s list of good, and not so good, moves: Rental disputes, bad COVID policy and going too far in constituent work.
The plot of land where the development of an affordable housing complex was proposed.
The plot of land where the development of an affordable housing complex was proposed. [ Photo courtesy of the City of Seminole. ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Jun. 18

Seminole vet housing. The sponsors behind an affordable housing project for veterans should be lauded for coming back from a loss. In December, the Seminole City Council voted against the construction of an affordable housing complex for disabled residents and veterans after would-be neighbors complained the project would be a magnet for drugs and crime. One resident even complained that affordable housing on Lake Seminole would be a waste of “beautiful” lakefront property. But this week, the proposed 64-unit housing complex — called Valor Preserve — was back on the table. The developer went back to the drawing board, and reconfigured a plan that didn’t need City Council’s approval. The new plan provides the same number of units, but includes adjustments to parking and open space that won the city Adjustment Board’s unanimous approval. “We want to be good neighbors,” said an executive with Tampa-based Norstar Development, which partnered with the Pinellas County Housing Authority on the deal. We hope that spirit of goodwill is reciprocated.

Tampa rent disputes? The Tampa City Council has worked commendably for months exploring ways to help residents with skyrocketing rents. Problem is, housing affordability is a problem nationwide. And the crisis is particularly acute in fast-growing Florida, where land and property values in metros like Tampa Bay are rising fast. The point here is that there’s no single, simple solution. This week, the council voted to ask Mayor Jane Castor to create a tenant advocacy office modeled on a similar program in Miami-Dade County. The office would be a clearinghouse for people seeking help with rent increases or difficult landlords, and under a proposal by Council Member Guido Maniscalco, would consist of two full-time staff and a budget of $400,000. We’re not sure where this is headed, but a cautionary note. Tenant-landlord issues involve the law and the private market, and it’s unclear how effective this office could be in resolving substantive disputes. There’s nothing gained by giving residents false hopes, or duplicating consumer protection services that might be available elsewhere.

Pinellas teaching lesson. Why after two years of this pandemic are some employers still struggling to do the right thing? Take the case of Pinellas County school teacher Zayda Janiak. She received a positive COVID-19 test result in April, reported it to the Pinellas County school district as required and stayed home as instructed to prevent spreading the illness. But then Janiak was told she had already used all but one day of personal sick leave, and that the four COVID-related days would be unpaid, which equaled $1,000. The Pinellas teachers’ union said several other employees had similar experiences — all after March 31, when the district’s COVID-19 paid leave policy expired. Dissatisfied, the union initiated legal action; an administrative hearing was tentatively scheduled for this week, but after the Tampa Bay Times reported on the case, the district offered to update its sick leave agreement with the union. Does it really take legal action and an embarrassing story in the paper for employers to come to their senses? And don’t teachers deal with enough ungratefulness already?

That frowned upon? Alina Greeley said she went “through hell” this year with a contractor, and turned to Tarpon Springs City Commissioner Jacob Karr for help. After meeting with Greeley to review her claims, Karr sent an email April 20 to Master Restoration asking the company to refund $34,000 and explain another $38,000 in charges. And Karr sent the email using his city domain and signed off: “Tarpon Springs City Commissioner Seat 1.” If Karr intended to get the company’s attention, it worked. The firm’s attorney responded by asking why Karr was using government resources in a private contract dispute. The matter blew up, with the commission passing a resolution this week reprimanding Karr, and sending a complaint about him to the Florida Commission on Ethics, which smacks (at least partly) of political payback. In his defense, Karr said he was unaware he couldn’t use his city email, and that he didn’t personally benefit from intervening. That’s still a weak excuse from an official who should have known the line between public and private business.

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Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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