Amid housing crisis, Tampa looks to create a tenant advocacy office
The city-funded program would connect renters with local agencies that can offer legal help, housing services and rental assistance amid the ongoing affordable housing crisis.
Tampa city council members are moving forward with the creation of tenant advocacy office after renters shared their struggles to make ends meet during a meeting on Thursday.
America Lebron was one among the speakers who was worried about losing her home. As she stepped up to the podium, the elderly woman steadied her walker and leaned into the microphone.
“Last week, they put a notice on my door that if I don't pay my rent in full, they're going to throw me out," she said.
Lebron lives at an affordable housing unit for senior community members. She said she moved there last year after her last apartment was flooded with sewage water.
“I should have stayed in that sewage apartment,” she said.
Tenants in Tampa, like Lebron, are finding it harder to pay their rent — even in the units that are supposed to be affordable housing.
Council members passed a unanimous vote to draft an ordinance for a tenant advocacy office. The city-funded program would connect renters with local agencies that can offer legal help, housing services and rental assistance amid the ongoing affordable housing crisis.
The responsibilities for the proposed office are modeled on a similar initiative enacted last month by Miami-Dade County in the creation of its office for housing advocacy.
“I’d like to create something like that here for the City of Tampa,” council member Guido Maniscalco said.
Using the Miami-Dade program as a guide, Tampa council members discussed having the tenant advocacy office:
- Act as a clearinghouse to connect residents to other departments/outside agencies that can help with specific issues (this includes charitable organizations to help with housing and community legal services to help with legal issues)
- Offer referrals to deal with evictions, retaliation and discrimination
- Require landlords to provide "Notice of Tenant Rights"
The draft ordinance is expected to provide the tenant advocacy office with a $400,000 budget and two staff members.
Council member Lynn Hurtak said the program could be the solution for aging residents and those without internet access who may be facing rent spikes or eviction notices and don’t know where to turn first.
“So I'm thinking that this agency is a good spot for them to figure out the right space,” she said. “Because time is of the essence for people who receive these notices.”
Despite voting in support, council members Charlie Miranda and Orlando Gudes were less optimistic.
“I want to make sure that everyone here understands that I’ve got to see results because I don’t want to give anyone who’s already lost hope another false hope that I’m going to solve the problem,” Miranda said.
A majority of calls received by the Miami-Dade County Office for Housing Advocacy in its first month were residents seeking rental assistance who were then successfully connected with the county’s rental assistance program, according to the staff report given at the meeting.
The City of Tampa also launched a rental and move-in assistance program in March.
The creation of a tenant advocacy office was the first of 14 points listed in a letter of demands sent to the city last month by the People’s Council of Tampa, a coalition of local activists and political groups fighting for tenant rights.
Two weeks ago, during a May 26 city council meeting, renters also pleaded with elected officials to create better protections for renters in Tampa.
On Thursday, they got that.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Florida Rising regional director Robin Lockett wrote in a direct message. “People power is in full effect. We are showing up and we are getting results.”
Gabriella Paul covers the stories of people living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region for WUSF. She's also a Report for America corps member. Here’s how you can share your story with her.