March 29, 2019. 88.5 WMNF

A coalition of faith-based groups will gather on Monday to ask Hillsborough County leaders to solve problems of affordable housing and criminal justice in the county.

The Hillsborough Organization for Progress & Equality, or HOPE, is hosting what it calls its ‘Nehemiah Action.’ About 1400 participants are expected.

To find out more, WMNF spoke with Anthony White — lead pastor at Bible-Based Fellowship Church and co-president of HOPE.

“I want to say good morning and thank you so much, Seán, for having me. I appreciate your show and what you’re doing in the community.

“So this coming Monday, two of the issues that we’re going to be really trying to tackle are affordable housing and, as you know, criminal justice reform. Particularly as it relates to criminal justice for those who are dealing with mental health challenges.”

Well, let’s talk first about housing. What can you tell us about how affordable housing is in the Hillsborough area? Or maybe a better way to ask is how unaffordable it is.

“Yeah, this is something that I think so many have been affected by. I have personally, as well. But in Hillsborough County, we have 104,000 families — over that number — that pay at least half of their income on housing. And 74,000 of these really have limited incomes that are 50% or below the area medium income. So this is a real crisis because the average apartment rent is over $1,050 a month — the average 2 bedroom apartment. So that means someone would need to be making $41,000 annually, and yet there are tens of thousands of families with wages below this.

“And so as I’ve said, I’ve been effected personally. In my own family, my son and daughter-in-law have had this challenge. So, I think there are many, many people in our community that are faced with this challenge. And what we’re asking the commissioners to do is to really, not something that other counties have not done successfully, and that is to set aside a public funding of $10 million annually to create and preserve decent affordable housing for these working families.”

And the other issue that you’re are looking at is criminal justice reform. What can you say about the number of people who are incarcerated in the county? And what special issues do those people have to deal with?

“One of the things I love about HOPE is the committees actually research these issues. And so, we have in our county jail an average of 3,100 people. Up to 40% of these persons that are incarcerated have serious mental illness challenges. Up to 80% are affected by both mental illness and substance abuse. What we’re asking are, basically, one, that our law enforcement would really take some measurable steps of crisis intervention training so that so many of these arrests — so many of these persons — do not end up in the criminal justice system. That’s one of the things that we are really hoping to accomplish, and get a commitment from those policy makers and decision makers to do that.”

And who are the elected officials that will be attending the HOPE Nehemiah Action?

“We send out, in advance, invitations with the questions that we are asking of them. This year no different. Our County Commissioners, Commissioner [Pat] Kemp, Commissioner [Mariella] Smith, and Commissioner [Kimberly] Overman, they have agreed to come.

“In addition to those, we’re expecting a representative from the Tampa Police Chief. In addition, State Attorney [Andrew] Warren will be there and Chief Judge Ficarrotta, and Public Defender [Julianne] Holt as well. We have not heard back from Sheriff Chronister or from Commissioner [Les] Miller to date.”

And if people are interested in attending, when and where is the HOPE Nehemiah Action?

“The HOPE Nehemiah Action again this year is going to be hosted at Bible-Based Fellowship Church. This is at 4811 Ehrlich Road in Carrollwood. We were privileged to host last year.

“Of course this a partnership of 23 congregations that will be coming, but also friends and community persons in the community are invited. We want you to be there. This is not a community forum. It is a direct action meeting. And so, just by your presence, it speaks volumes and will help us leverage the power that we need to actually help our decision makers make those decisions to improve our community.”

Reverend White, thanks so much for joining us on 88.5 FM today.

“Seán, I want to thank you again for this opportunity of having me.”

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