Middle class struggles to find affordable housing in Tampa Bay

2-1-1 Tampa Bay Cares took nearly 90K calls for financial help in 2020
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Posted at 5:31 AM, Sep 01, 2021

ST PETERSBURG, Fla. — Rent in the Tampa Bay area is reaching its highest rates to date, increasing more than 20% in the last year.

Laurie Bailey is a St. Petersburg resident, who is now sleeping in her car with her dog, Daisy.

Daisy just goes wherever, she, she's confused,” Bailey said. “She doesn't know where we're going from one night to the next.”

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Bailey works in accounts payable for a company in Pinellas Park.

I stayed in my car sitting up to like four in the morning, waiting for somebody to get up and let me go take a shower,” she said with an embarrassed smile.

Unlike many others in similar situations, Bailey’s worked every day throughout the pandemic. Unfortunately, in December, her landlord passed away and she lost her housing. She’s been looking for a place she can afford within 30 minutes of her job every day since.

I'd see the one-bedroom, I see the prices, and they started going up like $100 dollars every week they would go up, I can see them going up and up and up,” she exclaimed. “The one place I saw was like $800 dollars, now it's up to $1200. So they just keep jacking it up.”

Bailey was one of the thousands of phone calls to the Tampa Bay 2-1-1 hotline.

For the year 2020, we answered, 87,053 phone calls from people in Pinellas County alone who were having difficulty paying their rent, paying their mortgage, paying their utilities and they weren't sure when they were going to get approved for unemployment,” explained Kimberly Curnan, the contact center workforce manager for 211 Tampa Bay Cares.

Tampa Bay 2-1-1 was given $24.3 million dollars in the first round of federal aid to help people in Pinellas County from March to November 2020. The organization said they were able to help 8,600 families stay in their homes.

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But, after that round of funding, county organizations decided 2-1-1 would be best helping those slipping through the cracks, like Bailey, who aren’t facing eviction or unemployment but still can’t afford a one-bedroom apartment.

I called 211, they gave me a list of places, almost every single one of them had closed waiting lists,” Bailey said.

She’s right. ABC Action News has been following the waitlists for affordable housing in Tampa Bay, with some up to five years long with thousands of people in line.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Pinellas County's growth causing rents to rise and increasing the lack of affordable housing

Rental amounts are going up astronomically in the community and we have a big population who is on a fixed income,” Curnan explained. “It's not easy for them to come up with first month's rent, last month's rent, a security deposit, and then finding that affordable housing when maybe you've got an eviction on your record or there's something else that's popping up on your credit makes things even harder.”

While the county assures us they’re working on plans for more affordable housing, 2-1-1 is calling on landlords to partner with them to get more people in homes.

Especially those landlords that have multiple properties or units of apartments that they can rent out are you willing to work with these agencies? Are you willing to agree to certain stipulations, maybe there's an inspection that needs to be done or maybe you have to come down a little bit on the rent,” Curnan said. “But if you know that we're willing to help with the move-in costs, are you willing to work with us?”

It’s not nice out there. It's not nice,” Bailey sighed. “I just don't understand why they don't make at least, places for the middle people... the middle class is who, who struggles.”

In addition, the amount of people needing an affordable place to live is only going to increase. The Biden Administration’s extension of the eviction moratorium on August 3 only lasted a few weeks. The supreme court overturned it and now thousands of people in Tampa Bay are facing eviction.

While landlords also need their rent money to sustain their properties, federal financial assistance is still slowly trickling out.

2-1-1 Tampa Bay Cares adds that rental applications are going to look a lot different right now with possible evictions or bad credit reports and they’re asking apartment complexes to make exceptions.

If you need assistance, or just don’t know where to turn for advice, you can dial 2-1-1 from anywhere in the country. It works like 9-1-1, from wherever you call, it will link you to the closest county’s call center.

If you are experiencing homelessness, you can also find resources on their website here.