Tampa is streamlining how to guide renters and homeowners in the housing market with a new housing information line for people to call for help with rent relief or mortgage relief.
Tuesday, city leaders announced the new hotline, 813-307-5555, and the call center will be open from 11 a.m. to 7p.m., Monday-Friday. City officials shared the sad stories rolling into the city their offices that paint a tough picture on housing
"We have people who are calling us, a family of three, maybe making $60,000 a year and still sleeping in their car with a baby," said Kayon Henderson, the city of Tampa’s housing and community development manager. "That family, we realized we needed to get them to a safe place and so we did have resources to put them in a hotel until they secured permanent housing. They were in that hotel for about a week. We linked them with case management and ensured that they got into permanent housing."
The call center will staff workers who can talk with renters and homeowners about resources available to them.
"One of the great things about this program is we’re going to be able to see what kind of needs are out there," said Lynn Hurtak who represents District 3 in Tampa’s City Council. "It can help target the advocacy office and see where the real need is and who else might need help that we don’t know about yet."
The hotline helps housing nonprofits like Solita’s House in Tampa. Executive director Aidza Antonio Thomas said there are so many programs and many people don’t know what’s available.
"So for us, it's helpful, too, because some clients come in, and they've already applied for something. And if we don't know or if we're not talking the same language, it becomes confusing, and then it becomes so stressful for the clients," said Thomas. "So I think the hotline will help to streamline or at least help clients to understand what resources are available and then how to really tap into those resources while you're working on homeownership."
Thomas shared a reality adding to the crisis.
"So we started doing some security deposit and utility deposit assistance for individuals that were moving or transitioning into a new apartment complex or new apartment unit, and they needed these funds to help pay because again, that upfront cost could be so much. We have these funds, we have not been able to deploy the funds because our families can't find affordable units," said Thomas. "So we're not going to provide funds to someone that we know can't afford the ongoing rent. And because rents are so high in the city of Tampa, we can't deploy all the funds. So we've got all these families with these vouchers and not having anywhere to move.
So Solita’s House keeps thinking outside the box for different options.
"So we have to think outside of the box. We communicate a lot with landlords, and we try to negotiate leverage, leverage a lot of the funding that we have," said Thomas.
The city hopes the new hotline adds to that relief.
"Whatever the issue is that they are struggling with at the time, we’re trying to make this a much simpler process for them," said Tampa Mayor Jane Castor.