Counting Tampa’s affordable homes should not be this difficult | Editorial

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Jane Castor was right to declare housing a top priority for her as Tampa’s mayor. And nobody should fault Castor for setting an ambitious goal of creating 10,000 affordable homes during her tenure. The administration’s mistake was fudging what it actually accomplished. Tampa needs an accurate accounting if it hopes to address this crisis and sustain public confidence in City Hall’s abilities.

Castor, first elected in 2019, has repeated for years that her administration would seek to build 10,000 new affordable homes before her two terms ended in 2027. She has touted progress in interviews, public appearances and on the campaign trail, claiming her administration was more than halfway toward its goal. “We’re already up around or past 6,000,” she said in a February radio appearance. “And so we have no doubt we’re going to exceed that goal.”

But the city’s own accounting shows the administration remains well shy of 6,000 homes, a mark Castor first claimed to have surpassed two years ago, the Tampa Bay Times’ Olivia George reported recently. The official count in December was not only lower than what the mayor claimed, but the totals included homes that don’t exist, existing units under repair and others the city had little if anything to do with.

As of early December, the Times reported, the count by the city’s housing department stood at 5,242 homes — nearly 13% fewer than the mayor’s claims earlier on the campaign trail. But even that figure is misleading. The Times found that 60% of the counted homes are in the “planning stages.” Most lack groundbreaking or completion dates. Officials also previously counted hundreds of dwellings outside Tampa’s city limits — removing most of them after the Times inquired. One large cluster still included is within a complex built by the Tampa Housing Authority more than a decade before Castor first ran for office.

Castor told the Times her goal of 10,000 homes was knowingly ambitious, but that the failure “would be not trying.” City officials said Tampa’s population growth, coupled with additional housing needs and chain-supply disruptions created by the pandemic, only aggravated the task. Under Castor, the city has expanded housing assistance and outreach, and with city council’s support, Tampa is committing more resources toward housing than ever before. That, in turn, has raised expectations, which is why an accurate snapshot of Tampa’s housing stock is essential to keeping these efforts on track.

The city’s tracker, which it calls “a working spreadsheet,” is effectively meaningless. A list that’s regularly in flux — “It can go up, and it can go down,” the city’s housing director said — provides no picture of where Tampa stands in meeting the rising demand for housing. Creating an accurate list is easy enough; separating, for example, new homes from those being rehabbed, and clearly delineating between those opened, under construction or in the planning or development stage. Such a tally would be more accurate while still providing an overall picture of where Tampa stood toward increasing its housing stock.

Castor and the council deserve credit for making housing a top priority. But the public needs a better gauge of how these efforts are going. A reliable list would promote accountability, clarify the state of Tampa’s housing market and help residents in need better manage their expectations.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.