Concerned that the price of living in Hillsborough County is becoming increasingly unaffordable, the Board of County Commissioners approved a motion on Wednesday calling for its affordable housing advisory board to explore potential sources to create a Housing Trust Fund.
The vote was 5-1, with Commissioner Al Higginbotham dissenting.
“A trust fund is easy to create, but it’s impossible to fund,” Higginbotham said, referring to a similar proposal the board rejected less than a year ago. “That was the bottom line then, and the bottom line now.”
The motion was presented by Commissioner Victor Crist, who kicked off the discussion by citing a Housing and Urban Development report that said the average cost of rent in Hillsborough County was $992 a month. Citing the rule of thumb maxim that one shouldn’t spend more than a third of their income on housing, Crist said that amount to having to make more than $46,000 annually.
The Tampa Bay metro area comes in last among its 25 peers with the only median household income below $50,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Higginbotham asked where would the money come from? “We could take it from a transportation project. We could take it from Head Start. I don’t know where we take this money from?”
Commissioner Les Miller agreed. “Where do we get these dollar funds?” he asked, dismissing any chance of raising taxes to do so.
Commissioner Sandy Murman emphasized that affordable housing is different than housing for the homeless where there is currently a $30 million to $40 million deficit for the homeless.
The county has asked for more funding from the state for affordable housing, but that could be problematic. Governor Rick Scott’s proposed budget would shift nearly 77 percent of the $293.4 million earmarked for low-income housing next year to other state priorities.
Last year, the Tampa Housing Authority said that there were 14,000 low income people on a waiting list with them.
For the past few years, the Hillsborough Organization for Progress and Equality (HOPE) has come before the board requesting that the county make a larger commitment to affordable housing. Members of that group came before the BOCC last May, where they made the argument that there are more than 700 city and county governments with a similar housing trust fund. They offered proposals to create such a revenue source, including public service taxes, an increase in ad valorem taxes, or funds taken from code enforcement violations.
Crist advocated for his proposal by telling commissioners that there was a “ticking time bomb” going on with the price of housing in the county.
“How are we going to ever support and sustain what investors like (Jeff) Vinik want to do, if half the employees aren’t going to be able to live close to where they want to work?” he asked.