The decision to look deeper into the widening housing crisis seemed to come after St. Petersburg City Council voted to explore rent control last week, but Zelman wrote that Tampa's upcoming workshop was being planned before that.
"In October, before the motion referenced in the article was made in St. Petersburg, the Tampa City Council made a motion for our office to research and report on the ability of the City to adopt a rent stabilization ordinance, as has been done in some cities outside the State of Florida," Zelman wrote in the email. "This matter is scheduled to be discussed at a City Council workshop on February 24, 2022."
Zelman said that Tampa City Council, the Mayor, the City’s Housing and Community Development Department, and the City Attorney’s office, among others, are keenly aware of Tampa's housing affordability issues. According to numbers from the Hillsborough County Clerk of Court, 5,423 Writs of Possession—the final stage in the eviction process where tenants are removed by law enforcement—have been filed as of Dec. 19.
She said the city has been coordinating and sharing research on these issues with attorneys from Hillsborough County, who have also been asked to explore legal options to address the rising rent problem. Zelman said the city will be discussing the issue with attorneys from St. Petersburg as well.
Her email came in response to Angel D'Angelo, a Tampa activist who has been fighting for affordable housing, among other social justice issues, for years.
D'Angelo wrote in his initial email, sent on Dec. 18, that he and other activists had a meeting with city officials last year about exploring rent control, but nothing materialized.
"We pretty much got an email saying we hit the end of the road and that no municipality has attempted to pursue rent control in the last 50 years. (Which—who cares—are we champions of progressive policy or do we wait for others to do it?)," D'Angelo wrote. "Not feeling much like 'Champa Bay' if you ask me."
D'Angelo attached screenshots of emails from December 2020, which show discussion between himself and city officials. In those emails, Zelman cited Florida state laws that make rent control difficult, writing, "Please note that at the outset, per the [Florida] statutes, the City cannot impose rent or other price controls on any business that is not franchised by, owned by or under contract with a governmental agency."
This month, Zelman again cited Florida Statute 166.043 as a challenge. The statute puts limits on a local government's ability to adopt a rent control ordinance. While Zelman said that the state law is not completely stopping the City from exploring possibilities, official recommendations addressing the crisis have have yet to be made.
"Please be assured that despite the limitations imposed by the Florida legislature, he City of Tampa is continuing to explore all available options to address rising rents and other such issues that impact housing affordability," Zelman wrote.
There are other ways for cities to address the housing crisis, housing advocates say.
For example, the St. Petersburg Tenant's Union (SPTU) has pointed out that declaring a housing state of emergency and then having a ballot referendum introduced would allow citizens to vote on controlling rent. As SPTU has pushed for this solution, groups like the Bay Area Apartment Association and other landlord groups have pushed back against the potentially life saving approach to rent control.
Zelman told CL during a phone call that the ballot referendum process could be costly if arranged outside of a regular election season, 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.
There are other possible methods for protecting renters, even if not directly from rising rents. In November, to protect those suddenly evicted, Oregon's supreme court upheld a law calling for landlords in Portland to pay renters who face last minute evictions. This helps the residents be less housing insecure in the face of evictions during the housing crisis.
Multiple Tampa city council members have called the rent situation in Tampa a "crisis" this year.
Councilman Bill Carlson told CL that city council has been working hard for two and a half years to provide incentives for affordable housing.
"It's important that people have the ability to rent or buy housing they can afford," Carlson told CL. "But in Tampa, we need an increase to our overall inventory of affordable housing."
In October, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Mayor Jane Castor announced that the city is more than halfway to its affordable housing goal of 10,000 units, with nearly 6,000 units being planned, in construction or completed.
No specifics about the stage of development the units were in was included in the story, so CL asked the city.
In early November, of those nearly 6,000 units, 2,839 were still being planned, 501 were under construction, 2,538 were already constructed.
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