TAMPA, Fla. - With housing and rent prices skyrocketing across the Tampa Bay area, many residents are feeling squeezed out of the market. Long time homeowners in some of Tampa’s oldest neighborhoods are under pressure to sell, especially when repair and maintenance costs start to seem insurmountable.
It’s especially hard for older homeowners, on fixed incomes, to keep up with leaks, cracks, and other repairs; should disaster strike, some homeowners say they‘d have no choice but to sell.
When a tree fell on Ernest Braxton's V.M. Ybor bungalow in 2020, it took out part of his roof and an exterior wall. It also rendered the only home he has known for the last three decades uninhabitable.
"We’ve been here since ‘88. We raised our children here," said Braxton, who lost host wife of 50 years not long after he was forced out of his home. "I have wonderful memories there. I just hope I can get back in there again."
But on a fixed income and after multiple health setbacks, Braxton has struggled to keep up with the needed repairs.
"It costs thousands of dollars … and it’s just exhausted my funds," said Braxton.
He’s not the only retiree struggling to hold onto their home in a historic neighborhood where the lure of fast cash from developers and flippers is rapidly changing the look and price points of homes around him.
"I think that's what's going to happen here in Ybor City: they're going to put a lot of condos in. The property values are going up. I just want to be in my home," said Braxton.
Tampa Community Redevelopment Agency manager Cedric McCray says without intervention, homeowners like Braxton will be forced to sell, and historic neighborhoods will be lost for good.
"I can either take the money that I'm being offered, which may not be exactly what the property is worth, and I leave and they put up a new McMansion," explained McCray. "Or they lose control of the property because they can’t afford them. Even if you sell, where do you go? That's the major issue."
"We need development but by the same token, we need to create balance so that the people who live here can stay here," said Tampa city councilman Orlando Gudes, who serves as a CRA board member.
To help them stay, the East Tampa CRA has created a new program to rehab aging homes. Starting this spring, East Tampa homeowners that meet income limits can apply for up to $40,000 in assistance to cover exterior upgrades like the ones Braxton’s home badly needs.
"The whole Tampa Bay Area is just taking off in terms of property value, so there's a lot of pressure on folks to sell, especially folks who haven't been able to keep their homes up, and what the city can do is step in and help them keep their homes up because if they can't, they might end up homeless," said Tampa City Councilman John Dingfelder.
The CRA also says it’s working to develop another program that will help cover some demolition and rebuilding costs for homes that have fallen into disrepair.
City council members also say they’re exploring ways to legally stabilize rent prices. Some analysts estimate rent prices in the Bay Area have soared between 24% and 33% over the last year.
"We’ve asked our city attorneys to look into what we can do locally to try to put a lid on the rent hikes and that will be coming up in the next couple of weeks. It's unfortunate that in Tallahassee they've tied our hands in regard to what local government can do to help these folks, but we're going to do everything we can," said Dingfelder.
Florida law prohibits rent control unless a housing emergency has been declared. Tampa city council will meet next month to discuss its options.
Last month, St. Pete council members voted 6-1 in favor of exploring how they could declare a housing emergency in order to keep rents from continuing to rise.
For more information, visit https://www.tampa.gov/housing-and-community-development/programs/owner-occupied-rehab.