HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — With so many people moving to Tampa Bay and rents increasing, the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative needs more landlords to step up and help get people off the streets.
On Feb. 20, 2020, there were 1,452 people experiencing homelessness counted in Tampa Bay, 160 were veterans.
“I grew up here as a kid, not in Hillsborough County but in Pasco County, and I joined the military when I got out of high school and went to the Navy,” said Brian Tomlin, who spent ten years in the Navy, eight of them at sea and he deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq.
“I’ve seen more countries and islands than states,” Tomlin said.
After a bad fall on a ship, Tomlin became a disabled veteran and found himself struggling to adapt back to society.
“I didn’t expect to be homeless, it wasn’t like I planned on being homeless, or going through anything that I went through,” Tomlin said.
Tomlin went back and forth from the streets to shelters until he found the New Beginnings of Tampa homeless recovery program.
Through a partnership with the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative (THHI) Tomlin got a year lease for a room in this shared house.
This is a program where the housing initiative provides financial incentives to landlords with vacant rental units to help house those experiencing homelessness.
However, these opportunities are few and far between with the current rental market.
According to CoStar Group, Tampa Bay rents saw a record 25% increase in 2021, closing quarter four of the year with a 4.6% vacancy rate.
“The COVID pandemic and the housing market right now it's making it extremely challenging to pull these types of initiatives off and so we're at a point now to where we need to shift from word of mouth to actually putting a call to action now,” said Antonio Byrd, Chief Operating Officer for THHI.
That call to action is Home for the Holidays — a six-month program offering incentives to landlords that can include:
● Signing Bonus (up to two months rent)
● Security Deposit (up to five months rent)
● Risk Mitigation Fund
● Cleaning and Maintenance Fund
Byrd said Hillsborough’s vacancy rate is closer to 2%.
“So and if you look at the last point in time data that we have for unsheltered which was the 2020 Point in Time Count,” Byrd said. “We had roughly about 600 households experiencing unsheltered homeless… So when you talk about 2% vacancy rate in Hillsborough County as a whole that's enough for us to practically get every household of those 600 households off the streets.”
As for Tomlin, he wants others to know that there are resources out there, and to not give up.
“For the better to being off the streets and given all the opportunities the different things that makes it easier on a veteran or anybody that's been homeless before," he said. “To be able to get on the right track and progress in a positive way to where I can end up in my own place.”
Akhil Patel is the landlord who rents out a room to Tomlin. He's a doctor in California but is from Tampa. He owns two homes in the city, one he rents out to male veterans, the other for women.
“My goal is healthcare through housing and I think it’s really impossible for a doctor to do their job without the patient being able to have a certain sense of safety at home and not living in an environment with running water, clean, AC, that kind of thing so,” Patel explained, adding that he hopes to get more homes and help the elderly population as well.
If you’d like to get involved with the Home for the Holidays program, click here.