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More and more people are finding themselves living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region. In some places, rent has doubled. The cost of everyday goods — like gas and groceries — keeps creeping up. All the while, wages lag behind and the affordable housing crisis looms. Amid cost-of-living increases, WUSF is focused on documenting how people are making ends meet.

In the first week, Tampa’s housing hotline receives hundreds of calls

City of Tampa housing line
City of Tampa
Tanya Fulks works as a call operator for the City of Tampa's new housing information hotline.

Almost half of all callers, or 370 people, were seeking rental assistance. Another quarter of callers, or 214 people, called for help finding an affordable rental unit or home to purchase.

On June 21, the City of Tampa launched a housing information line to field calls from community members.

The infoline is an effort to streamline resources for people who may have questions or concerns on a slew of housing issues — eviction notices, landlord complaints or rising rent and mortgage costs — and don’t know where to start.

Instead of spinning your wheels to figure out what’s next, council member Lynn Hurtak said people in need of housing help can now call one number: 813-307-5555.

“I really love this for that reason. It just helps people,” she said.

To be exact, the infoline helped 801 callers in its first week.

Almost half of all callers, or 370 people, were seeking rental assistance. About a quarter of callers, or 214 people, requested help finding an affordable rental unit or home to purchase. The remainder of callers, who were within city limits and seeking housing resources, were counted in one of these categories: evictions, homeless services, landlord or rental price complaints, mortgage or rental assistance and security or utility deposit assistance.

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Hurtak believes the data, in large part, reflects the housing needs anticipated by the city. But certain categories — like only 6% of calls being eviction-related — are lower than anticipated.

That doesn’t mean the occurrence is low, Hurtak said, but rather that community members are not aware of the support or resources available to them.

In one case, Hurtak said, the fact that only one call was received about security deposit or utility deposit assistance tells her that “people don’t know that it’s an option.”

However, there will be an opportunity for the city to expand its efforts in the near future.

Currently, Hurtak said the city's housing infoline is acting as a stopgap measure ahead of the creation of a tenant advocacy office expected to pass its final hurdle in August.

Earlier this month, council members moved to draft an ordinance for the office that, if created, would replace the infoline as a clearinghouse of community housing resources.

Hurtak said she envisions call operators that may work for the city, but are also social workers or “people specifically trained in the complexities of housing right now.”

In the meantime, she is grateful to the city administration that moved quickly to create a bridge in services for the Tampa community.

“This hotline is just one small step, but every step matters, and we need to do all we can to help those struggling to put a roof over their heads,” according to a written statement by Mayor Jane Castor.

A city press release also provided a sample of housing-related questions that call operators are prepared to answer:

  • What resources are available to assist with security deposits? 
  • What resources are available to assist with mortgage payments? 
  • Who can I contact if I am having problems with my landlord? 
  • What resources are available to assist with rental increases within the City of Tampa? 

The housing infoline, at 813-307-5555, is receiving calls Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

I tell stories about living paycheck to paycheck for public radio at WUSF News. I’m also a corps member of Report For America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.