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Hillsborough County Commissioners dismiss call for affordable housing trust fund

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A proposal advocated for by the Hillsborough Organization for Progress and Equality – HOPE – to have the Hillsborough County government establish a $10 million affordable housing trust fund, fell by the wayside on Wednesday.

Commissioner Victor Crist won praise from his colleagues for bringing the issue up for discussion, but they politely rejected the concept for the moment, saying that they still have yet to address other important issues that would require funding, such as transportation.

“This is a community problem, and it begs for a community solution,” said one member of HOPE’s affordable housing task force who addressed the board. He said that that there are over 74,000 people in Hillsborough County who make less than $30,000, and called the insufficient number of existing housing programs in the county as “staggering.”

HOPE members say that the creation of an affordable housing trust fund isn’t a novel concept, with more than 700 city and county governments having such a program around the country. 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.

“Ten million dollars is a tall ask,” countered County Commissioner Al Higginbotham. “I can’t support it today, especially when we’re looking at our transportation needs.”

“The timing on this request is probably not the best,” said Commissioner Sandy Murman.  She added that any movement on a potential housing trust fund should only come after a master plan on affordable housing is completed later this year, and that the issue could best be addressed in the county’s two-year budget plan.

County Administrator Mike Merrill said that county programs for the homeless, affordable housing and transportation have all been deleteriously affected because of a reduction of funding from Washington D.C. and Tallahassee. He said that there are only two places to get new funding – from raising revenues or cutting from existing programs.

“I am in agreement that we need to do something, but where do we take it from?” he asked.

Former Commissioner Tom Scott made a plea for the proposal, saying, “one way to kill something you don’t want to move forward is to study something to death,” and adding that the problem has only grown worse since he left the board a decade ago. He’s running again this year for the countywide District 6 seat.

At that point in the debate, Crist told his colleagues that they were moving in a different direction than what he was calling for in his proposal, which was to simply have Merrill’s staff conduct a study of the county’s affordable housing program to determine whether the current “inventory” was adequate or not, what would be needed over the next 20 years, and to list potential funding sources. Realizing he didn’t have the votes, Crist said he would pull the motion, and have his own staff to put together information on how to address the problem.

Crist and Commissioner Kevin Beckner told an estimated crowd of 1,200 HOPE members last month that they would commit to advocate for an affordable housing trust fund.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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