TAMPA — Shaun Donovan, President Obama’s housing secretary, visited Tampa today to tour the federally funded Encore housing project — and to promote the Affordable Care Act.
Donovan, who runs the Department of Housing and Urban Development, told a small crowd that people who spend less on insurance will have more money to spend on housing.
“That’s the difference between renting for the rest of your life and buying that first home,” Donovan said at a gathering in the Ella, Encore’s first completed apartment building. “Getting folks insured, it’s not just good for their health care. It’s good for their housing.”
Donovan toured the Ella with Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and leaders of the Tampa Housing Authority.
The authority is building Encore on the site of the former Central Park Village. The project is being financed by $30 million in HUD grants. When finished, the development will have 110,000 square feet of commercial, office and retail space along with a grocery story, library, child care center and health care center.
It’s 2,000 apartments will be a mix of market-rate and subsidized housing.
As Donovan visited, crews were building more multi-level apartment buildings within sight of downtown’s skyscrapers.
Buckhorn thanked Donovan for the federal government’s role in reinventing downtown Tampa, from Encore to the Riverwalk.
“We could not change this city without your help,” he said.
Tampa has 96,000 people that could be eligible for health care under the Affordable Care Act, Buckhorn said.
“That changes lives,” Buckhorn said. “That gives people security that haven’t had security before.”
Donovan hammered state officials for blocking the expansion of Medicaid in Florida. Doing so would have given 848,000 people in the state health care coverage, he said.
Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott said he supported the expansion. But Legislators blocked it out of concerns the expansion would cost the state too much. Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government has promised to pick up the cost of the expansion for three years, then pay 90 percent of it after that.
Donovan visited Tampa a day after Obama apologized for the rough rollout of his signature program. The program’s web portal, healthcare.gov, continues to operate in fits and starts.
Donovan promised it will be working more smoothly by the end of the month. In the meantime, there are other ways to sign up for insurance, he said.
Standing behind him as he spoke were a half-dozen women trained to help people navigate the new health insurance marketplace.
One of those, Gerry Skinner, outreach manager for Tampa Family Health Centers, said her agency had signed up more than 230 people in person in October.
“This is more than just a website,” Castor said of the Affordable Care Act. “Someone described it to me as being able to find water in the desert.”