Members of the Tampa City Council are moving forward with the creation of a tenant advocacy office after tenants shared their struggles to make ends meet at a meeting Thursday.
America Lebron was among the speakers who feared losing his home. As she walked up to the podium, the elderly woman stabilized her walker and leaned over the microphone.
“Last week they put a notice on my door saying if I didn’t pay my rent in full they were going to kick me out,” she said.
Lebron lives in affordable housing for seniors in the community. She said she moved there last year after her last flat was flooded by sewage.
“I should have stayed in that sewer apartment,” she said.
Tampa tenants, like Lebron, are struggling to pay rent, even in units that are supposed to be affordable housing.
Council members voted unanimously to draft an ordinance for a tenant advocacy office. The city-funded program would connect tenants with local agencies that can offer legal aid, housing services and rental assistance amid the current affordable housing crisis.
The responsibilities of the proposed office are modeled after a similar initiative passed last month by Miami-Dade County in creating its housing advocacy office.
“I would like to create something like this here for the city of Tampa,” said board member Guido Maniscalco.
Using the Miami-Dade program as a guide, Tampa council members discussed the possibility for the Tenant Advocacy Office:
- Act as a clearinghouse to connect residents to other outside departments/agencies that can help with specific issues (this includes charities to help with housing and community legal services to help with legal issues )
- Provide referrals to deal with evictions, retaliation and discrimination
- Require landlords to provide a “Notice of Tenant Rights”
The draft order 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 answer for aging residents and those without internet access who may be facing rent spikes or eviction notices and don’t know not where to turn first.
“So I think this agency is a good place for them to find the right space,” she said. “Because time is running out for the people receiving these notices.”
Despite the favorable vote, board members Charlie Miranda and Orlando Gudes were less optimistic.
“I want to make sure everyone here understands that I need to see results because I don’t want to give someone who’s already lost hope another false hope that I’m going to fix the problem,” Miranda said.
According to the staff report presented at the meeting, the majority of calls received by the Miami-Dade County Housing Advocacy Office in its first month were from residents seeking housing assistance who subsequently been successfully connected to the county housing assistance program.
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 rights. tenants.
Two weeks ago, at a May 26 city council meeting, tenants also pleaded with elected officials to create better protections for tenants in Tampa.
Thursday they got it.
“This is a step in the right direction,” Florida Rising Regional Manager Robin Lockett wrote in a direct message. “The power of the people is in full effect. We show up and we get results.
Gabriella Paul covers the stories of people living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay area for WUSF. She is also a member of the Report for America body. Here’s how you can share your story with her.