TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Mayor Jane Castor set a lofty goal of building 10,000 affordable housing units by 2027. City leaders are fighting day-in and day-out to hit the mark.
On Dec. 1, Kayon Henderson got promoted to Division Manager for Housing and Community Development, a place she's worked hard to secure affordable housing for residents over the past decade.
As the fallout from the pandemic continues, the city has to get even more creative with how they deal with housing and, more importantly, keep people off the streets.
"One of the things that we look at is, what parcels do we have that we can turn into affordable housing. We're working with private developers, we're working with non-profits, and we look at public, private partnership, we realize that the city has a big part of it," Henderson said. "But, we need as a community to kind of come together and look at affordable housing. We don't want to get into a situation now we have a homeless issue. We're trying to really tackle that before individuals become homeless."
We met Henderson at a workshop the city was holding for licensed contractors. It is part of the city's Owner-Occupied Home Rehabilitation Program. The program uses a combination of state and federal funds to help families make essential repairs to their homes so it doesn't get condemned.
"We on average spend about $3 million on this program to help families; within the last year, we helped about 76 families. But, during the pandemic, it did put a pause," Henderson said. "We averaged 100 homeowners before the pandemic."
Each qualified homeowner gets a maximum of $50,000 through the Owner-Occupied Rehabilitation Program. The money goes towards essential repairs to bring the home to housing quality standards.
"Sometimes the $50,000 sounds like a whole lot, but when we go into the home, if there's a roof needed and we look at the HVAC, those costs can add up," Henderson said.
Currently, there are thousands of people on the waitlist for affordable housing. It can take years for a spot to open up. The more people the city can keep in their homes, the better it is for the entire community.
"We are at a place where we don't have enough inventory for affordable housing. So, how do we preserve what we have and so if we know these families are in need and the house they are in is affordable, then helping to fix that home maintains affordability for that family," Henderson said.
That program is just one of many tools the city has to keep Tampa livable for low to moderate-income families.
Several significant projects are in the works. One of the most ambitious is the Rome Yard Project. The live, work, play community is still in the early stages. But, the city plans to transform 18 acres of land along the Hillsborough River just south of Columbus Drive.
The project is estimated to cost $300 million, take about six years to complete, and have 954 units. The city guarantees two-thirds will be affordable.
However, the increased number of housing units can't come fast enough for some. If you need affordable housing right now, it could take years to get into a city-run program.
"There are thousands of people on that waiting list," Henderson said. "But, at this point, even if someone comes off that waiting list, there's still an issue of affordability and finding affordable housing to rent. And, so we really have to come in and really look at those development pieces throughout the city of Tampa. We have the property of 47th Street that the city does own, and we're looking to build about 160 affordable units on that parcel. Rome yard is coming up. And then we have a few other parcels that we're looking to do affordable housing development."
When the pandemic hit, Henderson said, everything changed, and the city is working to adapt now and in the future.
"The pandemic certainly showed us that our population changed. Anybody was able to be at work today and tomorrow, they lost their job, and it just really showed that nobody was immune to a situation. So affordability is needed for every single person in this community," Henderson said.