One of the many signs dotting the area around Beach Park. In September of 2021, city officials voted to reject the development of a new apartment complex.
Moving to Tampa was tough for me. Starting at a new school without my family was daunting. Running was an escape, and it wasn’t long before I started looking for a running route to quell my anxieties. The route I eventually settled on was a scenic one, one that took me past the luxurious mansions in South Tampa on my way to Bayshore Beautiful. A year after I had grown accustomed to my routine, a group of people began clustering around one of the gas stations on my way to Bayshore. They often held signs, “Retired veteran – anything can help” or “Lost job, God bless.” One day I ran by only to see a tent erected a few feet from the curb. The plight of homelessness that had come to rattle many cities in America was finally arriving in Tampa.
My run would also take me past the same yard sign that littered the front lawns of the many houses I passed. ‘Save Beach Park’ – a message innocuous enough, perhaps a plea to raise money for a local park. I was never particularly invested in my community. After all I would probably be bidding adieu to Tampa in 4 short years. “Well, I don’t really care, but it would be nice if they could save that park,” I mumbled to myself, smiling as I made myself laugh.
As more and more homeowners started placing these signs up, my curiosity grew. Then, within a period of a week the signs disappeared. All of them. Months later, on my drive home from school I’d sometimes question my own memory. Was Beach Park a real place? Did the community rally to save it? Was it all just a big false memory? Then, completely by chance, I spotted one of the signs this month. A homeowner had neglected to take it down. I was validated and took a closer look.
“Save Beach Park” was predominantly displayed, quickly catching the eye. Underneath, in much smaller font a sentence: “Say NO to the 3000 apartments.”
I ended up googling Beach Park. It wasn’t a park at all; it was a neighborhood in South Tampa. My neighbors weren’t rallying to stop the demolition of a local park. They were rallying to prevent an affordable housing complex from being built in an area originally zoned for commercial use. In September of 2021, the Tampa City Council voted to deny the developer rights to move forward with the project. It was killed, and Beach Park was promptly ‘saved.’ It suddenly made sense why overnight all the signs disappeared.
Projects like the one in Beach Park are killed all the time in Tampa. Actually, they’re killed all over the United States. Finding land to build on is rather easy for developers; the real challenge is community support for large affordable housing complexes. Homeowners fear the influx of lower-earning individuals and often make the argument that they will bring crime and disrupt community infrastructure. When the Beach Park Development Project was broached to city council members back in June of 2021, one homeowner made the argument that luxury apartment complexes bring with them “many drug dealers”. Homeowners simply have little incentive to support new housing projects: as more housing is built, the value of current housing diminishes. The law of supply and demand.
As current homeowners continue to watch their property values rise, lower-income Floridians will remain priced out of home ownership, and the plight of homelessness in Tampa will only worsen. Alas, there is no easy solution. City Council meetings are attended by current homeowners, not by the people living in homeless encampments. Even worse, as the dichotomy between the rich and the poor widens, we will find it easier to villainize the people who are forced to live under overpasses and in tents.
The housing crisis is made even worse by governmental aid to poor families. At the beginning of the pandemic, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act, which resulted in many laid-off workers receiving weekly unemployment checks for greater sums of money than their weekly work income. Coronavirus aid passed during this time also resulted in $46 billion dollars earmarked for rental relief for unemployed individuals. This significant influx of money has helped cause great pain: an inflation rate of 9.8% in March of 2022 and a 28% spike in rental costs in the Tampa Bay area.
It does not have to be this way. Zoning laws in the vast majority of South Tampa make it illegal to build anything that is not a single-family home. A drive around South Tampa reveals a sizable number of older homes currently in the process of demolition. These will almost all be replaced by brand new million-dollar homes: homes that can only house one family.
Volunteering at free clinics and going on TBSM street runs can have a powerful impact on an individual level, and it’s easy to see the good in these activities. Yet, this Band-Aid solution doesn’t solve the ever-growing crisis. It’s easy to make the argument that homelessness is a mental health issue or that it’s fueled by the opioid epidemic. But it’s much simpler than that: homelessness is a problem caused by a lack of homes.
Often, injustice hides in plain sight. Today, this injustice takes on the form of an innocent yard sign.
Beach Park was never worth saving.