How to solve the affordable housing crisis in Tampa Bay

There is a common theme we hear when we get together with colleagues, friends and family this holiday season: House prices are out of control. We have all been affected by the rising cost of living or know someone who has been.

Eunique Ortiz [ Provided ]

Whether you are looking to rent or buy a house, you will have to pay almost 25% or more than before the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s no secret to anyone living here that commercial investors are buying homes and land at an alarming rate, at prices well above market value, driving up rental and mortgage costs in our area. We are in the middle of a housing crisis, because one by one, the prices of the blocks they have lived in for decades are being cut.

Consider Charles Sorenson: he was born and raised in St. Petersburg. Last month, its owner refused to renew his lease in favor of an investor who wanted to develop his property for short-term rental of the Airbnb type. Charles was forced to leave the town where he had lived all his life. He must have moved almost an hour from home.

Right now, the rental cost in the Tampa Bay area has overtaken major cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, and Austin. In fact, rents in the Tampa Bay area have risen steadily over the past 16 months, exceeding national averages.

This crisis affects us all, and it disproportionately affects our most vulnerable residents and our overburdened workforce. Everyone deserves the right to have a safe place to live.

To find solutions, we usually look to our local and state governments, both of which have different levels of oversight to deal with this crisis head-on. Tallahassee state rulers have the opportunity to create a level playing field by fully funding affordable housing through the Sadowski Housing Trust Fund and allowing municipalities to decide what is best for them locally.

Instead, Republican state leaders voted against a proposed $ 400 million allocation to the Sadowski Housing Trust Fund. In next year’s budget, Governor Ron DeSantis this week proposed $ 355 million for the same fund, about $ 45 million less than what was proposed last year. Based on past budget cycles, it is unlikely that the entire allocation will remain in the final budget.

In contrast, State Senator Gary Farmer and Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith, along with dozens of their fellow Democrats, sent a joint letter to the governor this week detailing the critical need for a state of emergency in Florida on affordability of housing. This statement would crack down on landlords who are profiting from the pandemic by raising rental prices.

On the same day, the St. Petersburg city council took action to examine a similar state of emergency for the municipality. MPs voted to examine the legal feasibility of declaring a state of housing emergency and preventing rent increases for a year. This is just months after a major vote on a new zoning designation that could allow for increased density in areas near public transit.

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These measures could not have gone ahead without our community advocates. The St. Petersburg People’s Council led the community to call for a state of housing emergency, while groups like Yes In My Backyard St. Pete stood up and lobbied to expand zoning laws to increase access to more housing options.

Advocates share a common goal: to see more affordable housing options. Their easily adoptable ideas include zoning reform to encourage the creation of more affordable units, regulation of income levels on higher density developments, and increased notice for tenants facing rent increases. All of this and more could be a reality for thousands of people struggling with this crisis.

As a candidate for Senate District 24 in the state, I believe our communities deserve to choose what happens in our neighborhoods, including how we deal with our housing crisis. In many cases, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, but fully funding the Sadowski Trust Fund and protecting the ability of local governments to choose what is best for their city would be a good start – and it does. can happen immediately through state action. .

Charles, and many like him, don’t have the luxury of waiting for heads of state. We all know that the cost of housing is just too high and that it is possible to create good policies that have lasting effects for everyone – we just need heads of state who are ready to step in and do something. us a priority.

Eunic Ortiz is running as Democrat for Senate District 24 in the state, covering most areas of Pinellas County. She has worked in advocacy and government for almost 15 years and is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Florida and a member of the Tampa Bay Workforce Development Committee.

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