‘Some of them really just want to stay homeless:’ Hillsborough County Commission candidates talk eviction crisis
Housing activist place eviction order near the entrance of the Governor Mansion in Tallahassee. Photo by Jason Delgado.

Maura Cruz Lanz thinks tenants are taking advantage of eviction moratoriums.

Housing was a hot topic at Friday’s virtual discussion featuring candidates for Hillsborough County Commission.

The threat of eviction amidst job loss from the COVID-19 pandemic has been on the minds of families across the county. One candidate stood out in her response to the crisis. While agreeing that something needs to be done, Republican candidate Maura Cruz Lanz was vocal in implying it may not be as big of a problem as it’s made out to be.

“I’m a landlord. I have many, many apartments, and I have had only one person that has not paid their rent, and they owed money prior to the COVID,” Lanz said. “They have taken advantage of the COVID shut down moratorium, so they haven’t paid the rent. That’s only one person, but they’re just taking advantage of the system right now.”

Lanz is a Cuban-American business owner running against Democrat Gwen Myers for the District 3 Commission seat. Both candidates attended the virtual meeting Friday, which was hosted by the Tampa Bay Tiger Bay Club. District 1 Democratic candidate HarryCohen and District 6 incumbent Pat Kemp also attended.

One of the primary issues tackled at the meeting was the looming threat of homelessness among many Hillsborough County families who cannot meet rent due to job loss from the COVID-19 economic crisis.

On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control announced a federal emergency moratorium on evictions extended through December; however, many Americans are still unsure where they stand.

Lanz made some controversial statements at the meeting, suggesting that many homeless people want to stay homeless.

“I have met with many homeless people — some of them really just want to stay homeless, they do not want housing, they don’t want anything,” Lanz said. “A lot of them are mentally ill, and I agree with Gwen Myers as far as providing showers and a place where they can refresh themselves. That’s something that would be needed.”

Lanz’s opponent Myers, who is a retired county administrator, mentioned programs she led at her church to provide resources to the homeless population, but more needs to be done, she said.

“We know that the Superbowl will be here in a couple of months, and we’re going to dress up Tampa, but we just can’t dress it up for short period,” Myers said. “We must make sure that we help our homeless population throughout the year. We must address this issue…We must make homelessness, a top issue here in Hillsborough County.”

Cohen, a Democrat who is running against Republican Scott Levinson, boasted his experience as a former Tampa City Council-member as a tool to tackle the coronavirus crisis.

“I think that’s important to point out at the beginning, because that means that whoever is elected to it is really going to have to hit the ground running. There is not going to be time for on the job training,” Cohen said. 

Levinson did not attend.

Democratic incumbent Pat Kemp also attended the Friday meeting. Kemp faces Commissioner Sandy Murman, who is facing term limits in her District 1 seat. Murman is now seeking the District 6 seat, running against fellow Commissioner Kemp in the General Election. Murman was unable to attend the meeting.

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected]

One comment

  • Julie Aldrich

    September 6, 2020 at 5:12 am

    “A lot of them are mentally ill” Well, if you know this and all you think “they” need is a shower then you surely are NOT on the right track! As a person who does live with mental illness and has been homeless, I can tell you that having an occasional shower and being homeless is far from good enough! I’m appalled that anyone would think that would be the solution. It sounds more like a convenience to the landowner trying to justify the evictions. It’s disgusting to me how marginalized the mentally ill have become and to evict us simply because the postal service is slow or because we are unable to stand up for ourselves is outrageous! To consider our lives not worthy because we are unable to function in the manner as able-minded others, to be tossed out without thought simply because of lack of understanding is truly appalling. Surely, a little forethought is in order. It is clear to me that since the pandemic began there is understanding that this has been an added hardship on the most challenged of us. Compassionate understanding should be in play.

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