Advocates pushed for more affordable housing this year as Tampa Bay area saw record rent, home prices

It's been a wild year for the Tampa Bay area housing market in 2022, and housing advocates said there’s been success and challenges still to overcome heading into the new year. 

Families and community advocates pushed for more affordable places to live as the region experienced record high rents and home prices.

"So 2022 has been a unique year in the fact that we have seen such an increase in need and more and more people reaching out to Habitat," said Mike Sutton, the president and CEO for Habitat for Humanity Pinellas and West Pasco. 

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Sutton said they built homes for a record number of families this year.

"We have about 120 families in our program right now. So those 70 homes that we built this year put 70 families into a brand-new home of their own. They're all able to celebrate Christmas in their brand-new home," said Sutton. "Having that affordable mortgage is really what's going to set their family up for generational change."

They also juggled a few new challenges as they helped add housing.

"Everyone's understaffed right now. So when we're dealing with all the municipalities we work in, things are slower right now. It doesn't mean that the municipalities aren't doing good work. It's just they're understaffed," said Sutton. "So getting permits done or getting things re zoned or what have you can be a challenge and the supply chain continues to be questionable at times."

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The pandemic highlighted a growing gap in costs matching affordability, something Anne Ray researches at the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies at the University of Florida.

"One thing I think is really encouraging is I've seen a lot of counties starting to step up to the plate to support affordable housing in their communities through planning and also through direct support," said Ray.

She said more public-private partnerships can help balance the housing crisis, along with continued support of housing trust funds locally and statewide.

"What Florida has been doing right on an ongoing basis is having a state housing trust fund. So we have a mechanism to provide support for that spectrum of housing, both affordable rental housing, homeownership and assistance to individuals," said Ray, adding that affordable housing programs can also expand what they offer. "They can provide support to homeowners through things like down payment assistance, low interest financing, construction, also a lot of rehab and weatherization assistance, especially to seniors, to keep them in their homes."

So until the efforts catch up, it will take everyone working together to chip away at the crisis.

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"I think in 2023, we're going to see families reaching out to us. I think we're going to continue to be concerned maybe about a recession and kind of the uncertainty of the marketplace," said Sutton.

Habitat for Humanity said it expects to break more records next year, building 75 homes for families in need.