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Tampa expands its ‘Dare to Own the Dream’ homeownership program

woman in front of house
City of Tampa
Cheryl Hodges Cummings of Tampa closed on her first home in December of 2021 with the help of the city's DARE program.

The program aims to offer affordable housing for those who are eligible, especially as rent prices are skyrocketing.

The city of Tampa is expanding its Dare to Own the Dream (DARE) program, which offers down payment assistance loans to income-eligible first-time homebuyers.

At a Monday press conference, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said one of the biggest changes is a higher maximum cost of available homes -- a move made necessary by the increasing price for housing.

“In the past, the program has been limited to homes that cost a maximum of $240,000,” she said. “Now anybody that has taken a look at real estate in the city of Tampa recently knows that that price is not reasonable any longer.”

The new maximum is $300,000.

The amount on forgivable loans is also going up. The program had previously offered loans of up to $30,000 to buyers, provided they stay in the house for 10 years. The amount is rising to $40,000.

There are some limitations on who qualifies for the program -- prospective homebuyers must have a household income that is at or below 140% of the Area Median Income.

Castor also gave an update about the number of affordable units currently available in the city.

“I made a very bold goal of 10,000 affordable units by 2027,” she said. “And I am very proud to say thanks to our Housing and (Community) Development team and many others, we are over 6,000 right now.”

Cheryl Hodges Cummings is one of those first-time buyers who received a loan from the DARE program. On Monday, she fondly remembered her first night in her new home.

“It was a dream come true and I was in shock,” she said. “I stood there for a moment. And as I went to the new home and started putting stuff in and it was like, ‘Do I stay in the new home tonight? Or do I go to (my) apartment?’”

Cummings closed on the home in December 2021. The 62-year-old grandmother has lived in Tampa her whole life, but has only rented apartments before receiving the loan. She said, with rising rent prices, this move was necessary -- and more affordable.

“I stepped back and I thought: ‘I'm paying this (amount) for rent which is never going to be mine. Now I'm paying a mortgage which is less and this (house) is mine,’” said Cummings.

Castor said the problem of rising rent prices can be solved.

“Development is what you need,” she said. “We need housing units, not only here in Tampa, but throughout the state of Florida, and the quicker we can get the supply of homes, the quicker we'll be able to lower these rents and prices for our houses as well.”

When asked how many properties she anticipated are needed to lower these prices, she couldn’t give a specific number, simply responding: “all of them.”

But with such increasing development comes concerns over Tampa’s accompanying infrastructure, like schools and roads.

“We are focused on every single one of those areas, but some issues can be addressed more quickly than others,” she said.

And for a new homeowner like Cummings, being able to move into her own home and leave high apartment rents behind, comes with its own reward.

“I have a huge yard. I have 10 grandkids, so now they can all come over versus a little tiny apartment,” she said.

For more information on the program and how to apply, visit the City of Tampa’s DARE website.

I am WUSF’s Rush Family Radio News Intern for spring 2022.