In conjunction with Hillsborough County, MGT Consulting is putting together an Equity Profile Action Plan to be used as a set of guidelines to follow when planning future county development. The eight areas of focus in creating the guidelines consist of transportation, housing, criminal justice, economic opportunity, land use/ zoning, food security, the digital divide, and healthcare.
According to the Request for Proposal, the Board of County Commissioners was seeking a reputable consulting firm with experience creating similar equity plans “for communities of comparable size and complexity.” The county intends to utilize this equity plan to “inform strategic equity spaces [and] to guide the design and implementation of an ‘equity lens' through which actions taken by the county are examined to assess and measure questions of equity.”
The Request for Proposal also stated that “It is Hillsborough County’s desire to respond, not only to the current social, cultural, economic climate, but also address in a meaningful way the historic disparities within our community. By developing an equity profile of our community, opportunities for equitable growth can be identified and nurtured.” To understand what equity looks like to county residents, MGT Consulting conducted research and gathered data from local, non-profit organizations, community churches, and other community groups to learn who experiences inequality and how it negatively impacts their quality of life.
In order to effectively create this equity plan, MGT Consulting created an email and open phone line to allow county residents to give their input and share their personal experiences while living in Hillsborough County. They also held an in-person listening session open to the public, in which many people participated in. Currently, there are no future plans for another in-person listening session, and the phone line and email to submit input will be open until January 31st, 2022. MGT Consulting hopes to have a first draft created by March, but there is no current timeline on when the final draft will be finished and when the implementation of the equity plan will begin.
Residents who attended the in-person listening session inquired about what the first draft will look like and if community members will have access to that draft before pushing it to a completed format. Attendees agreed that the equity plan should be revised and reviewed by the citizens who had contributed suggestions to insure that the language and content is properly executed. There was a heavy push amongst attendees to have access to this equity profile before it is completed, as well as access to the completed draft in order to hold the county responsible for their execution of the equity plan, as well as making sure community funds are being distributed in accordance with the equity plan.
Participants showed the most concern to stop a repetitive cycle of funneling money into community projects that have not produced sufficient results. Involuntary migration is a lingering threat to those who have lived, worked, and participated in the economic incline of what Hillsborough County is headed towards. This deterioration of the quality of life imposed on the middle class jeopardizes the heart and soul of what attracts multitudes of new people, eager to learn what it means to be a part of our community.
These eight areas, or “pillars,” as MGT Consulting refers to them, are generally broad and should consider the many subcategories of concern made vocal by participants. One speaker brought up a point that the entire room seemingly agreed with through their head nods, claps, and cheers. This resident stated that the research conducted by MGT Consulting thus far has come from community organizations aimed at assisting citizens in the eight categories of concern. “Why go to those in charge of community groups that have continuously failed the community, rather than conduct research directly from the citizens?”
People from all demographics were present at the listening session, yet many people shared similar concerns. A young woman who recently graduated from the University of South Florida with a Master’s Degree in public health spoke on her experience, specifically as a millennial in the workforce of the Tampa Bay Area. “This city can no longer sustain a workforce,” she stated. Increased rental costs, living costs, and transportation are all obstacles she faces as a young woman trying to work in the community she has grown to love over the past five years as a student at USF.
Another woman bravely discussed her two year struggle with homelessness and how the county failed to efficiently assist her in getting out of a shelter and into available, low-income housing. She even directly called out two county representatives who had been helping her with housing applications but failed to correspond with any updates, or at all when the woman persistently inquired. One of the county representatives was present, and the two were able to later connect as the meeting concluded.
Many people also discussed their demand for criminal justice reform and a stop to racial bias prevalent in many aspects of life in Hillsborough County. Residents cited unfair treatment of predominantly Black neighborhoods and how the city maintenance, upkeep, and funding distribution pales in comparison to more affluent and predominately white neighborhoods.
Once the phone line and email are closed, MGT Consulting and county commissioners will review the recommendations and an update on the pending action plan will soon follow. With the hopes of creating a solid plan to make equality a necessary piece of new county development, the equity plan must be created by citizens, for citizens. It is the responsibility of county residents to demand a change. Now that they have made their concerns known, our community must hold the county responsible for the successful implementation and commitment to bridge the steady-growing gap between wealth and poverty that coexist in Hillsborough County.
Resident suggestions by voice mail left at (813) 327-4716 or emailed to Hillsborough Equity Profile will be accepted until January 31st, 2022. For more information, visit MGT Consulting.