Tampa Bay area leaders commit to fix housing and flooding problems at forum


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The Hillsborough Organization for Progress and Equality, or HOPE is composed of 25 interfaith and interracial member congregations. They sought to get commitments from local public officials to attain criminal justice reform, housing and mental health services, and environmental justice. At an event Monday night at Bible-Based Fellowship Church, County Commissioner Harry Cohen was asked to tackle the crisis of people struggling with mental illness by increasing the availability of permanent supportive housing. He showed his support for the idea, but was not sure if others on the commission would share his view.

“We had an affordable housing item that came up just a week ago, it only passed 4-3, we’ve had a few that have been 6-1. So I would I will commit to you is that I will be a leader on it. And I’m going to work very hard to get our staff to get behind it. But the next step is going to be getting the votes on the commission to actually get it done.”

“…and understood. So I’m going to take this tonight to be a yes that you will coordinate speak with staff to work on this issue.”


“And you will report back to us”

Commissioners Donna Cepeda and Pat Kemp also had met with HOPE on the issue, and Ken Hagan had scheduled time to meet with the coalition about their concerns. Kathy Henry is with Hope, and the Bible Based Fellowship Church’s Justice Ministry and was a bit upset that Sheriff Chad Chronister was absent from the Criminal Justice Discussion.

“Cohen said yes to what we were trying to get them to look into and do things and do better toward what needs to be done in the city. So that was my greatest part when we do commit to saying yes that we can say it that shows to me that somebody has been working behind the scene when you can come out in a group in a crowd like this on the these circumstances and just virtually say yes, without stumbling and thinking or whatever.”

Outgoing Chief Judge of the 13th Judicial Circuit Court Ronald Ficarotta and that courts and Public Defender Julianne Holt both showed their support for a request about whether they would work with criminal justice decision makers to expand the Hillsborough Adult Pre-Arrest Diversion program to cover driving on a suspended license and by including a Jail and Notice-to-Appear Screening for eligibility. But Captain Samuel Rojka with the Tampa Police Department spoke on behalf of the Chief of Police, and he offered a non-committal answer.

“I can say that Chief Burke was looking at these proposals and he has taken them under advisement and he is reviewing them to see if they’re feasible or not for our agency to expand.”

“Is that a yes. Or no?”

“He is reviewing them to see if they can be expanded. We’re not saying yes or no at this time.”

Notaby absent was Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, and the event organizers seemed confused as to why he hasn’t ever agreed to meet with HOPE, and asked the audience to petition him to get involved on these issues.

Commissioners Donna Cepeda and Pat Kemp also had met with HOPE on the issue, and Ken Hagan had scheduled time to meet with the coalition about their concerns. City Council members were also asked to strengthen 5 stormwater drainage ponds using native trees and plants that reduce flooding and heat and improve water quality, among other issues. Both Councilmembers Guido Maniscalco and Luis Viera committed to take action, with Maniscalco getting specific.

“Yes and I’ll be happy to make the motion to get the ball rolling on that at our next meeting it could be done at the next CRA meeting and we can go from there but yes absolutely.”

HOPE will get an update on the issues discussed at an October 23rd convention, hear reports from their listening process, and vote to pick community issues to tackle next year.