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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.

Tampa residents want more money allocated to affordable housing initiatives

Two women sitting, wearing masks at a desk while listening to a speaker
Gabriella Paul
/
WUSF Public Media
Simon Rowe, member of the Tampa Bay Community Action Committee, reviews housing assistance made available in 2022 by the City of Tampa.

The Tampa Bay Community Action Committee plans to present a budget ordinance to the city council that would reallocate monies from the general fund and American Rescue Plan dollars toward affordable housing assistance.

On Wednesday, a Tampa-based advocacy group met to discuss a strategy to increase the city’s funding toward affordable housing solutions.

The Tampa Bay Community Action Committee hosted the teach-in at the C. Blythe Andrews Jr. Public Library in East Tampa.

Around 12 attendees met in a rectangular room on the first floor, fitted with fluorescent lights and a TV projector.

David Jones welcomed the group, which he described as a “ragtag team" of dedicated volunteers that includes nurses, restaurant workers, college students and UPS employees.

The community action committee is an advocacy group that formed in the wake of racial reckoning following the murder of George Floyd, according to members. Its original concept was to serve as a volunteer-based council for police accountability and advocate for racial and political equity at the local level.

Lately, Joseph Nohava said, this looks like advocating for people in Tampa who are living paycheck to paycheck amid the affordable housing crisis.

YOUR VOICES: Are you living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region? Let us know

He took to the podium to outline what he calls a “people’s budget.”

“This is the soft launch, you might say, of our campaign to get a budget ordinance done for the city,” Nohava said.

In coming weeks, the committee plans to draft and propose an ordinance to the Tampa City Council that would reallocate monies from the general fund and American Rescue Plan dollars toward affordable housing solutions, like legal aid or rent and mortgage assistance.

In the city’s current budget, the general fund totals $494 million. The recommended budget for FY2022, shows almost half — or $178 million — allocated to police expenses.

This is one place, Nohava said, that the community action committee is asking the city to reallocate funds to housing assistance.

In addition, the city received a total of almost $80 million in American Rescue Plan funding that must be spent by the end of 2024. The Housing and Community Development Division is slated to receive around $16 million.

Nohava said the community action committee plans to meet with council members and draft a budget ordinance in July. According to the budget calendar, the city council is set to review Mayor Jane Castor’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year in August, ahead of a vote in September.

Nohava said the committee hopes for support from a super-majority of five council members, which can hold up against the veto power of the mayor.

Council member Lynn Hurtak says that's unlikely. She was the only council member to attend the community roundtable on Wednesday.

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Gabriella Paul
/
WUSF Public Media
City council member Lynn Hurtak engages with concerned residents about housing affordability and rental assistance. She was the only Tampa City Council member to attend the public "teach-in" hosted by the Tampa Bay Community Action Committee.

She recommended that the community action committee “bring the neighbors” to city hall to lobby elected officials at city council meetings. The Tampa City Council holds regular meetings weekly on Thursdays at 9 a.m. To speak remotely, residents must register 24 hours in advance.

Hurtak added that a successful strategy can be borrowing language from similar ordinances that have been enacted by other municipalities in Florida. She pointed to the tenant advocacy office that the City of Tampa is modeling off of an ordinance passed by Miami-Dade County in May.

"I hate to say we're slinging mud at the wall and seeing what sticks," she said. "But we kind of are."

Members chimed in with their personal experiences observing the affordable housing crisis, while living in Tampa.

One USF student, Noah Meyers, dug into the lack of proactive movement he's seen from local elected officials. He likened the current housing crisis to the iceberg and the Titanic.

“We’ve been looking at it for a whole month. Months. Years,” he said.

Laura Rodriguez said she works three jobs to afford an apartment she shares with three roommates.

David Jones, who began the meeting, offered some closing thoughts: “Hey, are we going to be proactive–try and do something? Or are we going to let people drown? I prefer to try and do something, personally, and I’m sure everybody else in here would as well.”

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.

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.