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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.

City of Tampa housing update shows the need for assistance outpaces funding

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Gabriella Paul
WUSF Public Media
Bob Whitemore, the leader of a citizens action group called City Tree, speaks during the public comment period on Feb. 2. He reprimands council members for excessive rezoning and lack of foresight for keeping land affordable: "Does every piece of land need to be developed?"

The quarter-one report is the first update since council members approved the housing budget for fiscal year 2023.

The Tampa City Council received its first update on housing efforts since approving the citywide budget last year.

Nicole Travis, the director of economic development, reported that nearly one-third of the $26 million available in the first quarter for housing assistance has been spent.

“To have that much money already expended I think is wonderful [and] a little scary,” council member Lynn Hurtak reacted.

The funds are separated into five buckets to provide programs for the community: homelessness prevention, public services, rental assistance, homeownership initiatives and rehabilitation programs.

Screenshot of Tampa housing budget presentaion
City of Tampa
A screenshot of the housing budget breakdown presented to Tampa City Council on Feb. 2.

With relief, Travis noted an expected $20.8 million from local and federal funds will be factored into the city’s housing fund by quarter two.

In December, city council members sitting as the CRA board unanimously approved the reallocation of an additional $20 million to bolster the housing fund. And on Thursday, it was announced that the city would be awarded an additional $800,000 in federal rental assistance funding.

Nonetheless, with an expected 20% increase in households in Tampa by 2030, Travis recommended the city reevaluate its spending strategy to ensure the dwindling pot of money will be allocated to best assist those vulnerable to displacement.

In recent months, community members have been vocal about needing assistance to stay in their homes amid the record-high rent increases.

“We know that the need far exceeds the money that we have,” Travis said. “So, it’s important that we talk about our housing priorities moving forward and how we allocate those funds.”

During the next quarterly report, in April, Travis said she would have recommendations prepared for the council.

Among them, she said, will be a suggestion to narrow eligibility requirements for the rental assistance program. In the first quarter, the city has spent $4.9 million of the $6.9 million budgeted for the entire fiscal year.

Meanwhile, council member Orlando Gudes voiced concerns that the acquisition and rehabilitation programs have spent the lowest proportion of available funds.

Travis explained that those numbers can be explained by a lack of staffing and delays in procurement between the city and smaller and minority-owned organizations. The needle should begin moving in in those programs in coming months, she said.

Looking ahead, council member Bill Carlson said he wants to “leverage our limited dollars” to create more permanent housing solutions for the city.

As rent prices in Tampa are finally experiencing a slow downturn, Carlson said he’d like to shift the council’s focus away from rental assistance and toward homeownership opportunities.

During the first public comment period, Tampa resident and NAACP housing chair Connie Burton quoted a 1968 speech from Martin Luther King, Jr. in highlighting the housing disparities she witnesses day-to-day in her East Tampa neighborhood.

“I just would like to say that a reflection of what I see happening in this city every day – [to] give rise to what King described, in one of his last speeches, as "The Other America" – what I see constantly is the other Tampa,” she said.

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.