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Hillsborough County residents' inequity concerns are being catalogued for a plan of action

Screen shot of a Zoom call. The screen is set to speaker view with Linda Wiggins-Chavis as the main focus and smaller boxes of other participants line the top of her screen.
Jessica Meszaros
Zoom screenshot
"Affordable housing is an issue," said Linda Wiggins-Chavis, describing farmworker issues. "There's an area now in Wimauma that is undergoing gentrification, so the migrant community is being pushed out of their homes, being pushed out of the community... newer neighborhoods are much better maintained than where the farmworkers live."

A consulting group is tasked with identifying existing barriers that are inhibiting equity in Hillsborough County.

Hillsborough County is gathering experiences and recommendations from its residents to develop a plan that would make the area more equitable.

The county is looking for feedback on multiple issues, including economic opportunity and income bias, housing, transportation, educational opportunities/digital divide, land use/zoning, criminal justice, health care, and food security.

Detailed list of Hillsborough County commissioners' goals.
MGT Consulting Group

Hillsborough is paying Tampa-based MGT Consulting Group $141,000 to gather residents' comments and propose an action plan. Two listening sessions were held on Tuesday: one in the morning on Zoom and the other in the evening at the C. Blythe Andrews, Jr. Library in Tampa.

The virtual call had about 50 participants.

Linda Wiggins-Chavis, with the nonprofit Faith in Florida, spoke on behalf of the migrant farmworker community in Wimauma.

"They're living in poor living conditions … They also have poor working conditions where they have a great amount of exposure to pesticides and other chemicals. They have a lack of protective clothing … overexposure to the sun, and heat exhaustion," she said.

The farmworkers receive threats of eviction by landlords and termination by employers if they complain about the living and working conditions, according to Wiggins-Chavis.

Conchita Canty-Jones, who retired after working for the school district for 32 years, spoke about the education of African-American children.

"The African-American students’ percentage, as far as failure is concerned, is off the chart — as far as dropout is concerned, attendance issues, school-to-prison pipeline, which is connected to those students to African-Americans especially black males, that are being suspended on a higher rate than any other ethnicity," said Canty-Jones.

Antionette Davis also talked about education problems. She said not all of the county's programs are available to her five kids on the east side of Thonotosassa.

"So, I'm out here kind of in the country, and some of the educational programs that they have at other schools, I would have to drive an hour to the west part of town, maybe in the Carrollwood area to get the program that I want for my child, which I chose not to do, because it's not feasible for my family," said Davis.

She said she would like equal opportunities for all Hillsborough County students.

Davis also added a recommendation for the county to monitor equity progress moving forward, rather than continue to talk about it with no tangible results.

“I also recommend that we have a hired position or a whole department that will be looking into this … an office for people to come to continue to share this kind of dialogue in terms of inequities. We know that anything that's funded usually is monitored and followed-up upon,” she said.

Concerns were also voiced about development causing gentrification and a depletion of agricultural lands. Plus, lack of transportation and affordable housing. And, an interest in more services for seniors, grief and mental health.

MGT plans to present Hillsborough commissioners with a draft of their proposal in March, and possibly have a final recommendation of implementation ready by April or May.

My main role for WUSF is to report on climate change and the environment, while taking part in NPR’s High-Impact Climate Change Team. I’m also a participant of the Florida Climate Change Reporting Network.