Big push for more affordable housing in Hillsborough

April 4, 2016. WTSP.

1,300 people in Hillsborough County will push for a big change Monday. They want safe and affordable housing options on their side of the bay and they won’t stop fighting until local leaders find a solution.

Monday night at St Lawrence Catholic Church on Himes Avenue in Tampa they’ll meet face-to-face with county leaders to find a solution.

Interfaith group meets with hundreds to tackle Hillsborough County issues

April 8, 2014. Tampa Bay Times.

TAMPA — Soon after the Hills­borough Organization for Progress and Equality greeted a crowd of nearly 300 people Tuesday night, the Rev. Doak Mansfeld laid down the ground rules.

There would be three issues for everyone here to tackle, he said: affordable housing, job opportunities for people with criminal records and finding ways to reduce the number of juveniles arrested in Hillsborough County.

With a yes-or-no question, HOPE members would ask the elected officials and decisionmakers present whether they would work to tackle the issues, too.

A no would earn silence from the audience, said Mansfeld, from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tampa. No booing. No heckling. Just silence.

But a yes, a promise to act and find solutions, should draw cheers from the crowd, he said.

“We walk different ways, but we come together for justice,” Mansfeld said.

A more just society is the goal of HOPE, an interfaith group that hosts the annual Nehemiah Action Assembly, which this year brought representatives from the county and city to Mount Calvary Seventh-day Adventist Church to answer questions and offer suggestions.

Two mothers, both employed full time, talked of their struggles to find safe housing for their families and make the rent each month earning less than $15 an hour.

The Rev. Paul Buster, who has been a pastor at New Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church for 12 years, spoke of his arrest more than 20 years ago, a felony charge after driving with a suspended license several times.

“The mature man you see today is not that immature young man,” he said. But not so on job applications.

“I’m still a convicted felon,” he said.

HOPE voted at a convention in October on which issues to tackle. Affordable housing was a major priority. More than 75 percent of low-income households in the county pay more than 40 percent of their income for housing, members said, citing a 2013 study by the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies at the University of Florida.

In addition to creating a trust fund for affordable housing for low-income families, HOPE also proposed an amendment to the Tampa Criminal History Screening Practices Ordinance that would give people with criminal records a better chance at getting a foot in the door at companies that contract with the city.

They also want to see law enforcement and county justice agencies work to reduce the number of juveniles arrested in Hillsborough each year. The civil citation program for first-time juvenile offenders has made inroads, they said, offering nonviolent offenders intervention programs. But not all children eligible for civil citations in the past year received them, members said.

Commissioner Les Miller said he is open to the idea of creating a trust fund for affordable housing in Hillsborough. HOPE’s vision sees that funding coming from public sources, though Miller said a mix of public and private funding would be more likely.

Tampa City Council members Frank Reddick and Lisa Montelione said they supported the amendment to the city’s criminal history screening ordinance and would work to bring a motion forward.

Representatives from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, the Tampa Police Department, the State Attorney’s Office and others involved in juvenile justice said they would work with HOPE on its last initiative.

Maj. Diane Hobley Burney of the Tampa police asked HOPE to make a promise, as well — that it would serve as a resource to families.

“We do not discipline,” she said. “That’s the parents’ job.”

HOPE works to reduce recidivism and unemployment in Tampa

In 2013, HOPE successfully persuaded the Tampa City Council to tackle unemployment by passing the Tampa Criminal History Screening Practices Ordinance that removes from the city’s job application the question asking if an applicant has a criminal record, thereby reducing discrimination in the hiring process and opening doors to potential employment.

In 2010-2011, HOPE got Hillsborough Community College to develop nine Fast-Track Job Skill Certificate programs, which will give unemployed individuals an opportunity to acquire relevant job skills.

HOPE expands dental care

Tampa, FL – In 2008 HOPE received an agreement from two Federally Qualified Health Clinics, the Health Department, and Tampa General Hospital to create a plan to increase dental care for 15,000 people living at 200% of the poverty level. A draft plan was presented to the HOPE Convention in October 2008. As of November 2010, the Health Department has hired a Dental Coordinator, dental services were increased for over 3,000 people, and 22 new dental chairs were established at health clinics with 16 of the dental chairs at two new health clinics opened in 2010.

Identification, birth certificates easier for homeless to access

Tampa, FL – HOPE’s 2008 Nehemiah Action had 1,000 community members in attendance to get commitments from two County Commissioners to advocate for funding for Birth Certificates and identifications for at least 1,000 homeless people to successfully secure jobs and shelter. The Birth Certificates Homeless Assistance Program was established in November 2008 with a monthly reporting system and, as of November 30, 2012, there had been 1,850 birth certificates and IDs given to the homeless.