The hotline—available via 813-307-5555 with operators on hand Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-7 p.m.—is meant to connect folks with someone who can point them to resources that might help them avoid eviction, deal with landlord or tenant issues, plus find rent and mortgage assistance.
During the announcement at the city’s Emergency Operations Center, Tampa City Councilwoman Lynn Hurtak said the information line will not take the place of a potential tenant advocacy office that council moved closer to creating last week.
“This is sort of a stopgap measure,” Hurtak told reporters, adding that she hopes the hotline will bring to light more of the issues Tampa residents are dealing with when it comes to housing.
“It can help target the advocacy office and see what and where the real need is and who else might need help that we don't know about yet,” Hurtak added. “This is just the first step in our efforts to ensure that every neighbor has safe and affordable housing. Our city cannot grow without addressing the affordable housing crisis and I will not stop working until we have implemented an equitable solution.”
Miami's office launched in March and helps to hold landlords accountable to the Tenants Bill of Rights in the county, which defines rights for renters and says that they must have safe living conditions. Tampa's own Tenant's Bill of Rights—which was enacted in March—also prohibits discrimination by a landlord toward tenants who use public assistance for housing.
Tampa's tenant advocacy office could break from the Miami model by removing the office's responsibility to work on affordable housing options. City council members noted that affordable housing solutions are already being addressed across several City of Tampa departments.
Kayon Henderson, Manager of Housing and Community Development for the City of Tampa, said the city hears some “really sad stories” about the housing crisis and added that the hotline is “not a way to solve any housing issue right now.”
She just hopes that “a family of three, maybe making $60,000 a year and still sleeping in their car with a baby” feels like the city has someone on the frontline with them.
City Council wants Tampa Mayor Jane Castor to include the $400,000 for the tenant advocacy office in her budget presentation set for August.
A spokesperson for the mayor told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that the mayor's office does not have precise budget details yet, and that "the mayor fully supports the tenant advocacy office authorized by City Council members. "
Spokespeople for the mayor told the paper that Castor supports the advocacy office, but did not respond to a question about whether or not the $400,000 for the office would be included in the budget presentation.
During the press conference, Castor also addressed investors that are buying up property and raising rents.
“What I say to those landlords out in the community is that just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Just because you see other people raising these rents to these incredible heights doesn’t mean you should be doing that,” Castor said.
Asked whether or not the mayor would reconsider her stance on rent control and stabilization so that she might back up her message to price gouging landlords with more codified and enforceable measures, the mayor's office told CL that, "Nothing has changed on rent control, as our hands are tied to a large degree by the legislature and Florida statutes."
City officials have regularly said Florida Statute 166.043 puts limits on a local government's ability to adopt a rent control ordinance. But housing activists point out that declaring a housing state of emergency and then having a ballot referendum introduced would allow citizens to vote on controlling rent.
Late last year, Tampa Deputy City Attorney Andrea Zelman told CL that the ballot referendum process could be costly if arranged outside of a regular election season, and that the city would have to make findings to prove the housing crisis presents a grave threat to its citizens. After a year, the process would have to start over again. This process is like this because of the state laws in place, Zelman said.
A spokesperson for the mayor argued that "as it stands, it would only prompt more rent increases sooner and cause taxpayers to spend a lot of money on litigation that could be better spent directly tackling the housing crisis," adding that the city is working with other municipalities and counties who're also navigating the crisis.
The alarm’s long been sounding on Tampa’s housing crisis.
In January, Zillow and others around the city celebrated a prediction that Tampa would be the hottest housing market in 2022. They were less vocal about the rise in rental prices and evictions. Rent relief programs are overwhelmed locally, and a March report found that most Tampa Bay homes made more money than the average local worker.
Hell, the smallest house on the market in South Tampa was going for $300,000 last March, and this month, data showed that Tampa now leads the nation in housing price increases.