HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Hillsborough County leaders say renters are now facing discrimination from landlords, making it harder than ever for them to find safe affordable housing. This comes amidst a huge affordable housing shortage across the Tampa Bay Area.
The affordable housing crisis in Hillsborough County has been growing for years. So when Cedar Pointe Apartments opened as an affordable development back in 2019, with options to put hundreds of residents in homes, tenants said it was a huge win.
"I've seen a lot of people come from barely making it to now they've been able to actually get on their feet and start growing,” said Keith Walker, a Cedar Pointe Apartment resident in 2019.
But two years later, in the midst of a global pandemic, local lawmakers are seeing fewer affordable units available. That’s made even tougher in some cases by landlords who won’t accept housing vouchers as rental payment. It’s currently a practice that’s legal in Hillsborough County.
“This situation is urgent,” said Commissioner Mariella Smith at a Hillsborough County Board meeting on February 17.
County leaders are now working to pass a Renters' Bill of Rights and Resources. It lays out the rights that tenants have along with resources to help with rental assistance.
The document also prohibits landlords from turning applicants or tenants away who want to pay with government assistance programs like Section 8 or Rental Assistance Vouchers, often given to families struggling with job loss in the pandemic.
Smith said the issue is impacting thousands of low-income families in the Bay Area who are seeing their applications for housing rejected over and over again.
"We're talking about people who are struggling financially, but fully capable of paying their rent with vouchers,” Smith said. “I believe discriminating against these people will prove to be on the wrong side of history."
Commissioners said this problem also impacts seniors on a fixed income, residents with disabilities and veterans who qualify for supportive housing.
If passed, Commissioner Kimberly Overman said this Renters Bill of Rights and Resources would not stop landlords from requiring potential tenants to pass a reasonable financial or credit check.
Hillsborough County is not alone in trying to establish protections for renters. St. Petersburg passed a similar Tenant Rights Ordinance in November 2019. Broward and Miami-Dade Counties have also adopted laws that prohibit housing discrimination based on a legal source of income.
There is a public hearing scheduled on this issue for March 3, 2021 at 10 a.m.