City's new housing grants aim to keep struggling East Tampa residents in their homes

East Tampa homeowners struggling to stay in their homes will get some financial aid in 2022 with nearly $2.5 million in targeted housing funds. The funds come from a portion of property taxes collected within the boundaries of the East Tampa Community Redevelopment Area.

About $1 million will pay for facade upgrades, minor landscaping projects, and other home repairs. Grants of up to $40,000 will be available per eligible household.

Approximately $1.5 million will fund removing homes beyond repair, with the opportunity for homeowners to build a new home on the same property.

Applications are expected to be available as soon as spring for rehabilitation grants. The grant program to rebuild homes could take longer to be finalized. Approval will be based on the homeowner’s need and income. The city is drafting the rules and regulations for the grants, and will hire third-party contractors to manage both programs.

“There is a need to replace and repair old housing,” says Vanassa Ross, economic development specialist II, with the East Tampa Community Redevelopment office. “We’re making sure we have all the things in place that we need.”

Ross is a recent hire for the East Tampa redevelopment team. She formerly worked in Valdosta, GA as the city’s director of community development and code enforcement. She also oversaw grant programs funded through the U.S. Housing and Urban Development.

Her duties in East Tampa include creating and implementing housing programs within the East Tampa CRA. 

East Tampa -- like many neighborhoods local, statewide, and nationwide -- has a shortage of decent affordable housing. This struggle also comes amid a hot real estate market and rising sales prices for home buyers.

For homeowners, especially those on fixed incomes, paying for repairs and general upkeep can be out of reach because they “don’t have resources to stay in place,” says Ross.

When homeowners can’t afford to fix their property, Investors see an opportunity to buy up the older houses, rehab and resell them for a profit.

Homeowners faced with repair costs can feel pressured to sell, but in today’s market, Ross says they won’t see much return on their property. And she adds, “Once you sell the property, where do you go to live. We need affordable housing. We don’t have affordable housing.”

East Tampa homeowner Ernest Braxton knows how hard it can be to keep a home in repair. More than a year ago a large tree toppled onto his roof. The nonprofit Center for Economic Development organized a community cleanup with funding from the East Tampa CRA.

On his fixed income, Braxton paid to remove the tree but that depleted his funds. The roof and the side of the house remain damaged.

Braxton, 72, is hoping that he can qualify for a grant and get his home repaired. He moved into the house in 1988.

“It’s where I raised my children,” says Braxton, whose wife recently died. “I just love the house. It has a lot of memories. It’s in a historic district. I like the neighborhood. I just want to get home.”

The city of Tampa manages several CRAs, including the East Tampa CRA. In each CRA, a portion of property tax revenues must be spent within the CRA boundaries on projects that benefit the community.

Volunteers from the community serve on the Community Advisory Committee of the East Tampa Community Revitalization Partnership and work with city officials to craft budgets and set policy. Tampa City Council members serve as the CRA board overseeing these special tax districts.

The East Tampa CAC recently met and requested the funding for these new grant programs.

Making sure that area residents can stay in their homes, and not be displaced by gentrification within their neighborhoods is among the priorities as East Tampa undergoes revitalization.

“We want to ensure that as many as possible of the residents who are living here and have lived here for extended periods of time can still live here,” says Cedric McCray, East Tampa CRA manager.

Residents already are phoning and emailing to inquire about the grants, he says.

“It’s going to be very popular,” he says. “There’s a need, quite frankly.”

For more information about this grant program and other services offered by the East Tampa CRA, visit the City of Tampa's website.
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Read more articles by Kathy Steele.

Kathy Steele is a freelance writer who lives in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa. She previously covered Tampa neighborhoods for more than 15 years as a reporter for The Tampa Tribune. She grew up in Georgia but headed north to earn a BA degree from Adelphi University in Garden City, NY. She backpacked through Europe before attending the University of Iowa's Creative Writers' Workshop for two years. She has a journalism degree from Georgia College. She likes writing, history, and movies.