TAMPA — More than one-quarter of all renters in the Tampa metro area spend over half of their income on housing and utilities, placing them in a category experts call “severely burdened renters,” according to a report released today by the Make Room campaign.
The Tampa-St. Petersburg- Clearwater metropolitan statistical area is one of 10 metro areas in Florida identified in the report as having a high percentage of families designated “severely burdened.”
That’s 114,342 renters, or 27.4 percent. Florida has the highest percentage in the nation.
Nationally, 1 in 4 families — about 11 million people — spend half their income on rent and utilities. Spending 30 percent of income or less is considered affordable.
The nationwide study was sponsored by Enterprise Community Partners, a charitable organization that develops and makes loans for development of affordable housing. Make Room seeks to end the rental housing crisis by spotlighting what it calls “the affordability crisis” and supporting organizations that lobby for policy changes and work to keep funding for such projects robust, Managing Director Angela Boyd said.
“Florida has a combination of a fast-growing population, soaring land prices and a construction market focused primarily on luxury buildings, creating a serious lack of affordable housing throughout the state,” Boyd said.
“Between stagnant wages and the shortage of affordable rental inventory, Floridians pay some of the most unaffordable — and continuously rising — rents in the country.
“Florida is fortunate to have a state housing trust fund,” Boyd said. “What is unfortunate is that the state Legislature often raids those funds for other uses. The money is not being used for what it was intended for.”
In Washington, she said, programs to fund affordable housing projects have experienced “cut after cut after cut, and families just cannot get ahead.”
In Florida, of the 2.1 million renter households in the 10 largest metro areas, 30.5 percent pay at least half their household income (before taxes) toward rent and utilities. The Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metro area fares worse, with 284,383 renters, or 35.7 percent, paying more than half their income for rent. Next are Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, 30.1 percent; Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, 29.7 percent; and Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, 28.2 percent. The Tampa metro area ranks sixth in Florida.
When rents are too high, families struggle with poor health and diet and slower progress on education, according to the Make Room findings.
In Hillsborough County, there is never enough affordable housing available, said Paula Harvey, director of Affordable Housing Services, whose office finds developers willing to partner on affordable housing projects. “We don’t ever have enough money to fully fund a new affordable housing project. Our money is used to leverage other money for part of a financing package,” she said.
If a developer takes money for such a project, Harvey’s office can regulate how much rent is charged, ensuring it remains affordable.
This area’s affordable housing gap grew through both the housing boom of the early 2000s and the economic stresses of the recession, according to the University of Florida’s Shimberg Center for Housing Studies.
“In 2000, there were 58,503 low-income, cost burdened renter households in the area,” according to the UF study of affordable rental housing in the Tampa metro area.
“This number increased to 90,292 in 2007 and to 112,103 in 2013 — a 24 percent increase in households in need between 2007 and 2013, even though the total number of households in the area grew by only 3 percent.”
Hillsborough County already has thousands of units available for struggling renters, Harvey said. “But we know we need more units because we have people inquiring all the time.”
This fiscal year, she said, Hillsborough County will fund a study to inventory affordable housing and do a needs assessment. Based on that study, “we will determine how many more units we need,” Harvey said. “Our role, as we fund projects, is to try to diminish the number of people who are without affordable housing.”
Boyd applauded the effort but said the next step also is important: to keep and increase funding on both the state and federal level to invest in public-private partnerships for new affordable housing communities.
“Tampa Bay is not a special case, but we are concerned,” said Kevin Schwartz, with the Bay Area Apartment Association. “The construction of multifamily (units) came to a halt in 2008, and millions of people lost their jobs. Now we have a situation where people are coming out of the recession but not finding jobs that pay as well, and having had their houses foreclosed on, they need to rent.”
As the demand for rental units rises, he said, so do rents.
The bottom line, Boyd said, is there needs to be government funding available to couple with private dollars, and there need to be more federal tax credits available to investors willing to put their money into affordable housing.