Despite over 100 people pleading for help at city hall, Tampa City Council shoots down rent control

Council cited legal reasons and will discuss an alternative ordinance on April 21.

click to enlarge Renters at city hall hold signs demanding rent control. - JUSTIN GARCIA
Justin Garcia
Renters at city hall hold signs demanding rent control.
Today, more than 100 housing rights activists filled Tampa City Hall during city council's "rent stabilization workshop" and demanded that councilmen address the growing housing crisis.

They asked that the city hear the pleas of the poor and working people of Tampa, who are suffering as rents skyrocket and thousands are evicted.

While the council members were set to discuss rent stabilization in general during the workshop, many of the activists were demanding council go a step further and declare a housing state of emergency in order to enact rent control and reign in rent.

The council didn't declare an emergency or move toward rent control during the meeting, arguing that it couldn't work legally.

Councilman Bill Carlson instead proposed an ordinance that would require landlords to give six months notice before increasing rent, which will be discussed at a council meeting on April 21. And on May 26, council set another workshop to get other ideas from the community that don't include rent control. 

The councilmen also said that $1 million dollars of city rental relief for those in need is coming on March 1; CL reached out to councilmen and city officials for details on the distribution of those funds, but that relief money would still end up in the hands of the landlords that are increasing rent.
Members of the Tampa Tenants Union, Florida Rising, Restorative Justice Coalition, Fight for 15, and several other activist and faith groups filled the first and second floors of city hall.

Reva Iman of activist group Florida Rising said that rent control is especially important in Black and brown communities.

"A lot of times, what we have is that the rent has increased on people who have fixed incomes, getting only seven or eight hundred dollars a month,"Iman told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay during today's workshop. "When rent goes up, how are they going to pay the other bills that they have?"

Several people who are living on fixed income spoke about their struggles, along with teachers, medical professionals and those who work corporate jobs, saying they can no longer afford rent.

Others said they were compelled to speak at council because they can't bear to see what's happening to those around them.

Michelle B. Patty is a homeowner, but she told council that she's watching people in her community go homeless.

"We're talking about seniors that are being put out on the street, veterans that are being put out on the street, children being put out on the street," Patty said. "No more excuses council."

Patty pointed out that the legal department is subsidized by the citizens, and that they need to be getting creative to protect Tampa's citizens. "Doing nothing is the coward's way out," she added.
click to enlarge People filled the city hall building today demanding rent control. - JUSTIN GARCIA
Justin Garcia
People filled the city hall building today demanding rent control.
Councilchair Orlando Gudes said that city council "has got to find a cure" to the housing crisis. He referenced seeing people going homeless in his own city, and the fact that so many people are rising up about the situation. "The people are hungry, they want results," Gudes said.

Councilmember Guido Maniscalco sympathized with the struggle, and urged council to find a solution.

"If this isn't an emergency, then I don't know what is," Maniscalco said. "We have people on the verge of homelessness and landlords can do whatever they want."

Councilmen Bill Carlson and Luis Viera argued against rent control, saying that it might do more harm than good for the community, echoing the concerns of city  attorneys, who have argued that the path to rent stabilization would be a tricky path.

But after impassioned public comment, all the council members present, with only Dingfelder absent, said that rent control wasn't an option because of legal reasons.

City attorneys have cited Florida Statute 166.043 as a challenge to rent control measures. The statute puts limits on a local government's ability to adopt a rent control ordinance. The city has said that the state law is not completely stopping the City from exploring possibilities, but official recommendations addressing the crisis have have yet to be made.

But Alana Greer, lawyer co-director of Community Justice Project, said that the city's argument doesn't add up.

"The state does not preempt rent stabilization, it explicitly authorizes it and tells you how to do it," Greer told CL. "Unfortunately, the state has made it difficult for the long term I can show you how to go through hoops every year. But the only real obstacle is local political will and elected officials putting being willing to put this back to the voters."

In order to pass rent control, city council has to declare a housing state of emergency by proving there is an emergency through a study, then put a ballot measure up for vote from the public on whether or not to approve rent control. If the measure were to pass, under current state laws, the city would have to do this every year.

Nicole Travis, Tampa's new director of economic development and opportunity,  said that "it's not the city's place to be a landlord" but referenced to city projects like Rome Yard, which Travis said would have affordable housing sites in the future to address the crisis. The Rome Yard project is projected to be completed in around six years.

Meanwhile, the housing crisis rages on for everyday Tampeños.

Gayle Rogers, 62, said that the money she makes at McDonald's isn't enough to pay her rent.

"And other people are going through the same thing that I'm going through," Rogers said. "I hope that council will acknowledge this crisis and bring this matter to the voters."

But in the end, councilmen decided against rent control, claiming that they couldn't enact the process because of legal tie-ups.

"We tried our best to do what's right, but sometimes our hands are tied," Gudes said. 

About The Author

Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia previously wrote for the USA Today Network, The Economic Hardship Reporting Project, Scalawag Magazine, and various other news outlets. When he's not writing, Justin likes to make music, read, play basketball and spend time with loved ones. 

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