HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Jim Caramello's phone rings daily, and many times when he answers, he hears a similar story: a renter's landlord is increasing rent to a rate the renter can no longer afford.
Caramello, the Real Estate Director for the University Area Community Development Corporation —a 501(c)(3) public/private partnership that seeks to establish more affordable housing in the neighborhoods around the University of South Florida — said the demand for affordable housing is overwhelming to the point it far exceeds a very limited supply.
“We were having 900 people a day move to Florida. We’re not building 900 houses a day," he said. “Everyone who moves here creates a bigger deficit in our already taxed housing.”
Caramello said the University Area CDC is in the beginning stages of constructing two new housing developments. One project will create 30-40 new townhomes near the university. The other, called Uptown Sky, will create a complex of 61 apartments near the corner of 12th St. and Fletcher Ave.
But, as Caramello is quick to admit, it’s not enough.
Hillsborough County leaders like Commissioner Kimberly Overman, who represents District 7, are trying to do their part to create more.
"Prior to the pandemic, we had over a 55,000 unit shortfall," she said, before adding that the pandemic has only exacerbated the issue she considers as the county's most pressing. “We’ve seen approximately a 20% increase not only in land values but rental values, so now there’s even a larger number of need for affordable housing in Hillsborough County.”
Weeks ago, Hillsborough County Commissioners passed an expenditure, shepherded by Overman, that she hopes will help. Commissioners budgeted $750,000 to establish a Community Land Trust (CLT), a relatively new concept that is becoming more common across the country and state.
“This is another tool in the toolbox to address the need—and the great need—for affordable housing for our workforce," Overman said.
Once the county establishes its community land trust, the trust will acquire land where homes or apartments exist or where new units can be built, families will buy the housing, but the trust will maintain ownership of the land.
The arrangement allows the trust to keep prices lower and more affordable to low and moderate-income families. Overman said community land trusts also have the ability to stabilize communities by preventing gentrification.
“It allows for a reduced cost," she said. "It (permanently allows) that land, for a 99-year ground lease—so that’s pretty close to being permanent—to be protected against the increased costs...that make homes...unaffordable.”
In the coming three to four months, Overman said the county's Affordable Housing Advisory Board will begin organizing the governmental structure that will oversee the land trust. The land trust's governing body will need to establish bylaws, a financial infrastructure, and other mechanisms to make the land trust self-sustaining. It will also need to identify partners to assist in its goals.
While Caramello understands the process will take time, he appreciates the county’s move to create more affordable housing.
“The only way to increase affordable housing is to increase affordable housing," he said. "If we’re not building more, we’re not going to have any.”
The Hillsborough County Affordable Housing Advisory Board will meet Monday morning, and Overman expects that board members will get a brief update on the recently-approved community land trust funding before discussing other strategies to improve the county's supply of affordable housing.