OPINION: Tampa needs to reopen its rental assistance program immediately

Tampa officials need to prioritize the reopening of their Rental and Move in Assistance Program that ran out of funding. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

Tampa closed its Rental and Move-in Assistance Program (RMAP) on Friday due to lack of funding after it was active for less than a year, according to its website.

Given the recent rent increases in Tampa and the number of people now struggling to afford housing, reopening this program needs to be a top priority for Tampa officials.

The goal of this program, which was initiated in March, was to help residents find and keep stable housing in the midst of the rent spikes throughout the city by providing them with financial assistance. 

Rent in the Tampa area has drastically increased, as stated in a 2022 study by Florida Atlantic University. In 2020, rent averaged $1,715 per month. The following year, prices jumped an average of 28% and are still on the rise. Now, rent in the area averages $2,246, according to Zillow.

This is nearly $1,000 higher than the national average, which is at $1,344, according to Apartment List. It’s even significantly higher than other cities in Florida like Jacksonville, where the average rent is $1,462.

These prices are already more than what most people in the area can reasonably afford. Tampa Bay residents are spending 36% of their income on rent, compared to 25% in Boston and 23% in San Francisco, according to a 2022 article by Rangewater, a local real estate company.

USF students are hit especially hard by these rent increases, according to a 2023 article from The Oracle. Florida students have been impacted by some of the highest rates of housing insecurity in the nation, with 29% of Florida college students claiming they didn’t have a place to stay and 36% considered dropping out because of their financial situation, according to a survey by Student Beans.

People in the area already can’t afford a place to call home. Tampa’s homeless population saw a 50% increase between 2021 and 2022, as stated in the Florida Council on Homelessness Annual Report.

This number is only going to increase as more and more people struggle to afford a place to live. 

“There does not appear to be a supply-side solution, and I don’t expect the population growth to slow down. Things are probably going to get worse before they get better,” Ph.D Shelton Weeks, who helped conduct the FAU study, said of the findings. 

The program began with a budget of $6 million, and, after assisting less than 1,000 people, the funding has dried up, according to the program’s website.

Officials would not give a direct answer regarding when the program would reopen or if that would ever happen.

“We will not stop looking for solutions to help make housing accessible and affordable for people in Tampa Bay. Mayor Jane Castor and the entire Development & Economic Opportunity team continue to look for additional revenue streams and funding sources to assist families,” a spokesperson said in a Saturday interview with 10 Tampa Bay.

Housing is not affordable for many Tampa residents, and it hasn’t been for a while. Even in 2019, residents struggled to pay the steadily increasing rent prices, according to an article by News Channel 8.

Reopening the RMAP can give people the help they need to find stable housing in such a volatile market.