TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott has donated billions of dollars to a diverse set of organizations since her split from Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. This week, she donated $436 million to Habitat for Humanity to build new, affordable homes in the midst of America’s ongoing housing crisis – including here in Tampa Bay.
Scott pledged to fund projects in a thoughtful way in 2019, noting in a letter written at the time that she had “a disproportionate amount of money to share.” Scott said she would keep donating “until the safe is empty” – implicitly promising to donate the majority of the money at her disposal. A report from the New York Times estimates her portion of the divorce settlement from Bezos netted Scott about $36 billion from her 4% of Amazon’s shares.
Of the $436 million total going to Habitat for Humanity, $7.5 million is going to the Habitat for Humanity of Hillsborough County. The organization called the donation “transformational.”
Regionally, Habitat said Hillsborough County has the highest poverty level of the surrounding counties, with nearly 15% of residents living in poverty. Another 25% of the residents in the county are currently living below the asset limited, income constrained, employed threshold, according to Habitat Hillsborough. That means they are struggling to afford basic necessities like food, water, and gasoline, to name a few.
Additionally, the organization said 40% of the local community is facing economic hardship, adding to the affordable housing crisis. Tampa’s metro area is one of the top 10 markets where housing costs have skyrocketed in the past year.
“While homeownership can significantly reduce the cost of housing, Hillsborough County has the lowest rate of homeownership (58%) in Tampa Bay, also lower than Florida’s average (66%) or the national rate (64%),” Habitat Hillsborough said.
The need to build affordable homes comes at an opportune time, when more money is needed and more people are fighting off record-level inflation as rent and home prices surge.
February 2022 marked an increase in how much of a paycheck is going to rent each month. Realtor.com found rent in Tampa cost 32% more of residents’ paychecks year-over-year in February. Additionally, the study on rent proportion versus wages said Tampa rent in 2021 was 42.9% for the entire year. The median rent in February 2022 in Tampa was $2,098, according to the report.
The housing market, already tight, has yet to yield to strategies intended to lighten the load on homebuyers and renters. As a large number of people continue to move to Florida, the need for housing has grown. The state legislature estimates about 850 people will move to Florida every day over the next five years.
Tampa is a particularly popular destination for movers, with 16% of all homes sold in Florida in Tampa alone, just in February. Prices have continued to rise due to an ongoing shortage of available inventory.
“February’s statewide housing data follows the same trend we’ve been seeing for months: a limited supply of for-sale inventory, high buyer demand and rising prices,” Florida Realtors President Christina Pappas said. “Home prices continue to be impacted by this shortfall in inventory. When homes are available for sale, they’re going under contract very quickly. The median time to contract statewide for single-family existing homes in February was 12 days compared to 21 days during the same month a year ago.”
Previous reporting found the materials with the highest price increases, according to the latest Producer Price Index from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, were those to build homes. As the price of materials continues to rise due to inflation and supply chain slowdowns, it is not yet clear how much the $7.5 million given to Habitat for Humanity in Hillsborough will be able to build.
“Habitat works to break down barriers and bring people together — to tear down obstacles and build a world where everyone, no matter who we are or where we come from, has a decent place to live,” Habitat for Humanity International CEO Jonathan Reckford said. “This incredible gift helps make that work possible.”
The organization said they would be ironing out a plan for how to use the funds in the coming weeks.