Editor’s note: ULI Tampa Bay was one of four district councils (along with ULI Chicago, ULI Arizona, and ULI Sacramento) selected through a competitive process to identify land use and transportation barriers to healthier and more equitable places and provide recommendations for local policy shifts and reforms. The program is spearheaded by the Institute’s Building Healthy Places Initiative with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

A recent ULI panel of development professionals partnered with the city of Tampa, Florida, to advise on the city’s major initiative to increase the availability of attainable housing throughout the community. Attainable housing is market-rate housing that is affordable to lower- and moderate-income residents. In contrast to affordable housing, attainable housing is typically not managed by government or restricted to people below specified income thresholds.

Convened by ULI Tampa Bay in September 2020, the group was tasked with building upon the foundational recommendations outlined by Mayor Jane Castor in her report, Transforming Tampa’s Tomorrow, which sets a goal of adding 10,000 new housing units (both affordable and attainable) in Tampa by 2027.

Panelist Eric Kronberg noted that the city’s restrictive, single-family-only zoning that exists in many neighborhoods outside the downtown area, combined with redlining lending practices of past decades, has contributed to systemic discrimination, limited housing choices, and a lack of opportunity that is reflected in the current shortage of attainable housing. (Kronberg Urbanists Architects)

The virtual eight-day panel was chaired by Jess Zimbabwe, executive director of Environmental Works in Seattle. Assisted by a task force of local urban design and real estate leaders, the group consisted of ULI members from across the United States who specialize in attainable housing, urban planning, finance, and development.

Given the city’s ambitious housing goal, a major contribution of the panel was reinforcing the need to think holistically, be bold, and be prepared to “fire on all cylinders” to address numerous aspects of the plan at the same time, said Zimbabwe. “Housing is such a big and complex issue for any city—addressing it takes every arrow in your quiver,” she said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Tampa Bay region is one of the nation’s 10 fastest-growing metropolitan regions in terms of population; it is rated the sixth most favorable investment market in the country by Emerging Trends in Real Estate® 2021. As a result, development pressure is high, which is further constraining affordability.

Creating the conditions for the development of attainable housing in the city is a key challenge. “This is a moment to seize to ensure that the benefits of this growth and attention are realized by all residents, particularly communities of color,” Zimbabwe said. “Now is the time to commit resources where needs are greatest and prioritize neighborhoods that have been historically underinvested and overlooked.”

To identify priorities, the panel examined how the city could best leverage portfolios of public properties in support of Tampa’s new Community Land Trust program to provide lasting affordability, with an emphasis on multifamily and mixed-use opportunities, and on promoting equitable and healthy neighborhoods.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor responding to the ULI panel’s recommendations via Zoom.

It also explored the development of a land acquisition framework for specific sites within targeted communities to achieve maximal impact; effective and efficient developer incentives; data and mapping tools to inform decision-making and track progress; and creative ways to include more minority- and women-owned business enterprises in the development process.

Building upon Tampa’s recent housing report, and numerous interviews with public- and private-sector leaders and other community stakeholders, the panel made comprehensive recommendations to Mayor Castor and her staff on ways to enhance the city’s housing initiative by making it more flexible, scalable, replicable, and more reflective of housing needs throughout the community. The recommendations are explained in a new ULI Tampa Bay report, City of Tampa: Housing, Equity, and Health.

Mayor Castor, who described the panel’s work as “nothing short of amazing,” said, “If we heard nothing else, we heard, ‘Be bold.’ Being bold is the essence of all this. If we are going to meet or exceed this housing goal, we have to do things that have not been done in the past in this community. Not only did we hear the panel’s observations, we will put them into action.”

The mayor noted that the city is fortunate to have broad support for increasing attainable housing throughout the public and private sectors. “Everyone is in this for the betterment of our community. We have a lot to do, and we are excited to get started,” she said.

Reaching the Housing Goal: Key Recommendations

Foremost among the panel’s recommendations is the need for a senior administration position focused exclusively on housing, such as a “chief housing officer.” Panelists advised that the individual in this role be given the authority and resources to pursue the city’s housing goal and collaborate with various city departments and nongovernmental agencies to expedite attainable housing production. The city is conducting a national search to fill the role.

Other key recommendations included the following:

  • Conduct a thorough, data-based analysis of attainable housing needs to identify what exists and what is lacking; cost-burdened communities where residents are paying 30 percent or more of their income toward housing; income level targets for different housing types; and geographical locations for new attainable housing.
  • Lower the costs of adding 10,000 units by 2027 by using existing tools such as public land contributions, impact fee abatements, tax abatements, and parking waivers. (The panel estimated that the costs could be lowered by as much as $30,000 per unit by using these tools.)
  • Preserve existing attainable housing with a strategic, scalable strategy that is incorporated into an annual housing needs assessment and includes tracking existing properties and being poised to invest in preserving units.
  • Implement anti-displacement strategies with measures such as property tax relief, rent relief, eviction, and foreclosure prevention, as well as equity-sharing programs and the forthcoming Community Land Trust (CLT) program. The panel commended the progress made in Tampa to create an independent CLT to help counter displacement.
  • Increase access to capital for the CLT as well as other nonprofit groups to fund land acquisition and development of attainable housing. This includes identifying and helping to grow a network of community development financial institutions and other financing sources such as philanthropic organizations.
  • Remove and reduce impediments to attainable housing creation with actions such as providing a priority review process; having all attainable housing projects managed by a city administrator through the entire process; expediting waiver requests for lot setbacks, building heights, parking, and density; and identifying private- and public-sector partners to fill funding gaps.
  • Cultivate public/private partnerships to help fill in funding gaps for housing creation and preservation; share resources and maximize efficiency to reach the city’s housing goal; and address other related issues such as social equity.
  • Adopt a multipronged strategy for building partnerships that targets nonprofit entities, major employers, anchor institutions—particularly hospitals that can help elevate health as an integral part of thriving neighborhoods—the business community in general, and the military (working with nearby MacDill Air Force Base to alleviate housing challenges).

An Emphasis on Inclusivity and Equity

The housing affordability challenges faced by many of Tampa’s lower-income residents are exacerbated by limited transportation options, Zimbabwe said. She cited data from the Center for Neighborhood Technology indicating a dearth of “location efficient” neighborhoods in Tampa that are compact, with a mix of land uses, and convenient to jobs, services, transit, and amenities. “This challenge further sets low-income families behind,” she said.

While the city’s downtown was transformed into a more walkable, mixed-use, denser environment during the previous mayoral administration, the Castor administration has the difficult task of figuring out how to similarly transform the rest of the city’s neighborhoods in ways that “accommodate demographic shifts and new population growth while preserving neighborhood character and helping existing residents stay in neighborhoods and benefit as they are improved,” Zimbabwe noted.

The panel focused on how to frame the housing initiative in terms of community engagement and social equity, noting that the city must continue to emphasize a highly inclusive and equitable approach. In evaluating how best to do this, panelists noted that in some neighborhoods, an organizational infrastructure already exists; while in others, the city will need to conduct more direct engagement work and capacity building.

The panel offered several suggestions to achieve more equitable outcomes, such as identifying and cultivating community champions; implementing a comprehensive, inclusive community engagement process; creating more capacity building in neighborhoods that lack an existing organizational infrastructure; and using tools such as the land trust to generate small-scale wealth-creating opportunities for communities of color.

Panelist Eric Kronberg noted that the city’s restrictive, single-family-only zoning that exists in many neighborhoods outside the downtown area, combined with redlining lending practices of past decades, has contributed to systemic discrimination, limited housing choices, and a lack of opportunity that is reflected in the current shortage of attainable housing. “These neighborhoods are critical places to invest in to make Tampa better, but the investment has to be done in a very thoughtful, equitable, and inclusive way,” said Kronberg, principal at Kronberg Architects + Urbanists in Atlanta.

The group urged the city to implement policy changes and invest in ways that lift up underinvested areas as well as open up more neighborhoods to people in a broader income range. It suggested specific strategies to increase attainable housing while encouraging more equitable neighborhoods, including:

  • Re-legalizing previous neighborhood development patterns to encourage denser housing designs and a greater mix of housing with retail such as neighborhood stores;
  • Building “missing middle” housing (housing for people with moderate incomes) that is based on that type of housing that already exists in the city;
  • Expanding the availability of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on an incremental basis or through a pilot program;
  • Training residents of disadvantaged areas to lead their own infill development; and
  • Promoting access to capital for community-led development efforts.

Panelist Christopher Coes commended Mayor Castor and her team for demonstrating leadership, creativity, and the political will to address housing affordability and gentrification issues, particularly given the current fiscal challenges resulting from the pandemic.

“The popularity of Tampa as a place to invest speaks to the urgency of preserving and providing affordable housing for existing residents as well as new ones,” said Coes, who recently left Smart Growth America in Washington, D.C., to join the Biden administration as principal deputy assistant secretary for transportation policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation. “We recognize that this is not going to be easy, but in a time of constrained resources, Tampa needs to prioritize its most vulnerable residents.” Residential displacement caused by gentrification “does not have to be inevitable,” he said.

Avoiding displacement and fostering social equity will require the city to focus “block by block” to create the inclusive environment it envisions, Coes added.

Carole Post, Tampa’s administrator for development and economic opportunity, said that the panel’s work will be “an incredible tool” to help guide the city’s housing initiative.

“We want to capitalize on what ULI has provided. It covers a lot, but we have the benefit of momentum, in terms of the mayor’s leadership and prioritization of housing,” she said. “At this moment in time, when we have the support and enthusiasm of the community, we have a responsibility to act now and make a difference. These recommendations will be extremely helpful in making that happen.”

In addition to Zimbabwe, Coes, and Kronberg, other panelists were: Charles T. Brown, senior researcher, Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey; John Hodgson, founder and president, the Hodgson Company, Sacramento, California; James Nozar, chief executive officer, Strategic Property Partners, Tampa; Amanda Rhein, executive director, Atlanta Land Trust, Atlanta; Phillip Smith, president, Framework Group, Tampa; and Tanya Stern, deputy planning director, Montgomery County, Maryland.

ULI Tampa Bay’s local member advisers included the following: Keith Greminger, principal, Stantec; Taryn Sabia, director, Florida Center for Community Design and Research, University of South Florida; Taylor Ralph, president, Real Building Consultants; and Tyler Hudson, partner, Gardner Brewer Martinez-Monfort.

More from This Series:

Hear more about innovative policies at the 2021 ULI Housing Opportunity Conference.