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Tampa mayor: Rent control measures not the solution, could drive away developers

Mayor Jane Castor says city needs the inventory to ease rent hike at unveiling of housing assistance program for renters

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TAMPA — Despite skyrocketing rents in the city, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor says capping rents or putting in rent stabilization measures will only worsen the problem by driving out developers, sending them to friendlier locales and depriving the city of what it needs most: more inventory.

Castor, speaking at a press conference to roll out a new housing assistance program for renters, says a lack of housing that is affordable is a “crisis” that’s begun to affect people across Tampa who are suddenly finding themselves unable to afford to live within the city limits.

The cause, she and other experts say, is the terrific growth that is coming as people and companies discover and move to Tampa, helping the economy but at the same time putting a burden on the housing markets. This has catapulted rents and housing prices skyward, leading to a growing cry for measures that either cap rents or stabilize them.

That will not work, Castor says. While acknowledging people are hurting, she says scaring developers away would fail to provide the city with what it needs most to help address the issue, more housing inventory.

“I know it's difficult for individuals that are struggling right now, I fully understand that. But those aren’t the answers. It’s supply and demand. If we put the caps on rents, rent stabilization, that’s going to kill development in our particular area, developers are going to go to other locations throughout the United States that that will welcome them and their projects.”

Instead, she says city government needs to ensure that housing is coming on board as fast as it can and that the administration is looking at rehabilitation projects and multifamily projects to help ease the demand. The program announced by the mayor March 9 is also designed to help residents.

The plan, which quietly went live March 1, provides qualified renters with first month, last month, security deposit and rental subsidies. Those in the program may have to take financial literacy courses as well.

Qualification is based on income and allows people to earn up to 140% of area median income. This means a family of four in Tampa making up to $103,320 per year qualifies.

The city had originally made $1 million available for the program, but that was exhausted almost immediately. The administration has now asked Tampa City Council to consider an additional $4 million in funding at a meeting scheduled for March 10.

The program is designed to help offset rising rents in the city and to help keep people from fleeing to lower cost areas — not that there are many left.

In a statement, the mayor’s office says the real estate research firm CoStar Group reports rents in Tampa Bay have grown the fastest in the country, with the average renter seeing an increase of $300 per month.

That, Castor says, is unacceptable.

“Right now, we have individuals — teachers, nurses, restaurant (and) hospitality workers — who are working full time and cannot afford, if they can find a location, to live,” she says. “So again, we are going to do all that we can to ensure that our residents can remain here in the city of Tampa, living in the neighborhoods that they want to be in.”

Tampa City Council Chairman Orlando Gudes echoed the mayor’s sentiments, saying council members have been inundated by calls from constituents finding themselves priced out of their homes. (Tampa city elections are nonpartisan, though Castor is a registered Democrat and Gudes, according to his official city of Tampa bio, is active with the Florida Democratic Black Caucus.)

Gudes is hopeful the council will provide the money requested to keep the program going but says it is just a fraction of what needs to be done to bring rents under control. That means looking at zoning and other approaches in order “to change the dynamics of Tampa a little bit, to be able to have inclusion, with luxury, affordable housing, transportation that’s available to everyone, to have a sustainable market.”  

“Capitalism is great. Everybody wants to make money. But at what costs to everyday people who make the city run? If my garbage man can’t afford to pay rent…how do we operate? We have to operate.”


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