TAMPA BAY, Fla. — Evictions in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties are higher than average after a year in which renters were protected under a federal eviction moratorium. Now, tenants behind on rent, fear they'll be kicked out soon.
“You know how you say sometimes you’re a walking zombie? That’s how I feel sometimes," Terrica Young said. "I’m not going to lie, but I know I have to stay strong because I have somebody looking up to me.”
Young and her 12-year-old son are getting by without a plan. The threat of eviction hangs over the single mother, every day.
“Everything I worked hard for and made throughout the years. This is us. This is all we have" she said. "And what if we just have to give it all up and start over again?”
Young applied for rental assistance six months ago once the rent at her low-income Northeast Tampa apartment upped her monthly payments by $400. She said the checks are nowhere to be found and her sole income is not enough to stay in the unit the mother-son duo from Georgia have called home for the past two years.
“Nothing’s been done and now we’re about to be put out," she said.
“People are hurting and they are desperate right now for housing and for support," Doug Griesenauer of United Way Suncoast said.
Griesenauer said Young's situation is, unfortunately, far too familiar for Tampa Bay renters, right now.
According to metrics used by United Way, the number of evictions in Tampa Bay is higher than average for the month of March. It's the first time since February 2020, before the federal eviction moratorium.
“Really what we’re seeing now is more connected to the increased costs of rent and the simple inability to pay those," he said.
The average rent in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties is just below $1,800. Only half of Tampa Bay renters are able to comfortably afford their rent costs, with one in two families considered rent-burdened, meaning their rent accounts for more than 30% of their monthly salary.
$88 million in emergency rental assistance has not been enough, so far, to slow down evictions in Hillsborough and Pinellas.
“We get calls from individuals saying, ‘I’m being evicted tomorrow.’ And their lives will change, tomorrow. You can help those people, and then tomorrow you’ll get another call from someone who’s being evicted tomorrow," Griesenauer said. "It’s the pandemic exhaustion times.”
"It's concerning every day," Antoinette Hayes-Triplett of Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative said. “It’s like a Hail Mary every day. We’re throwing the ball down the field trying to create opportunities for people.”
But those windows of opportunity are far from easy for Hayes-Triplett and her team to pry open. THHI uses funding from Housing and Urban Development to find affordable units for those experiencing homelessness. However, the funding is tied to "fair market rent," which in Hillsborough County, Hayes-Triplett said, averages around $950. That is about half the average price of rent in the area.
So far, THHI has opened up 150 affordable homes with the money from HUD, which is far outpaced by the more than 2,000 evictions filed already this year.
“Every day I’m worried about how people are getting by," Hayes-Triplett said. "We’re asking if any landlord has any available units, I don’t care if it’s a mom-and-pop approach, reach out to us.”
Hayes-Triplett said that collaboration between property owners and housing advocates is critical to keeping families, like the Youngs, in a place they can call their own.
"We’re going to be okay," Young said. "If we have to stay at a hotel or whatever, we’re going to be okay.”
If you're struggling to keep up with your rent, you may qualify for emergency rental assistance. Visit United Way Suncoast's Eviction Mitigation Dashboard to learn how to apply for financial aid.