East Tampa students get lessons in real estate as rents skyrocket

“I wish they’d taught me that in school.”

It’s a line Realtor Kella McCaskill has heard a lot from people in her community when talking about housing.

From mortgage agreements to down-payment assistance, to rent-to-buy options and savings plans, McCaskill said many people, especially those without a parent to turn to as example, don’t start thinking about real estate and financial literacy until well into adulthood. In a housing market like Tampa Bay’s, that’s years too late.

It’s something McCaskill is looking to change.

On a Wednesday afternoon, after music class and before starting English homework, students at LinaBean Academy, a private school in East Tampa, filled a small classroom and began scrawling equations onto notebooks. McCaskill stood at the front of the room.

Twice monthly, she visits the school for hour-long real estate workshops. The theme of the lessons change each time they meet, but the goal remains to get students thinking about their financial futures and to normalize conversations about housing affordability and financial hardship as the city changes.

“We want our kids to be thinking about the real world,” said Ischolina Williams, who founded the school back in 2016. “We’re teaching life lessons.”

This particular Wednesday, McCaskill talked with students about rent control, rental assistance programs and how much is okay to spend on housing.

“What’s the cost of the average one-bedroom in Tampa?” she asked.

Anari Dula, 14, opened a hot pink laptop and pulled up the website Rent Cafe.

“Like $1800 a month,” he said.

Right. That’s just a one-bedroom,” McCaskill said. “Now the rule is you don’t want to spend more than 30 percent of your income on housing. So how much would you have to make to afford to live here right now?”

The students’ eyes widened.

“Exactly. That’s the problem,” McCaskill said.

Williams said she started LinaBean Academy to serve kids with special needs, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism, or those facing learning barriers stemming from challenges at home. She said she sees the school as an investment in the future of her community, where child poverty rates are high and opportunity is sometimes limited.

Most of the students who attend the school receive tax-funded scholarships, she said, and the increasing costs of rent has been a big issue.

“We’ve had several children that have become homeless in our school,” Williams said. “We try to make sure they understand what’s going on around them. We want to empower them with information so they know that they can plan for a future they want.”

Amaryss Robinson, 13, said that’s what she likes so much about the real estate workshops run by McCaskill.

“It’s important for us to learn this now because when we get older, we don’t have to just take care of us, we’re going to have to take care of our parents as well,” Robinson said. “We’ve got to focus so we’ll know what to do. Because we’ve already learned from other people’s mistakes.”

The workshops extend beyond lessons in the classroom. Williams said she wants students to be civically engaged and understand the role that their government plays. Earlier this year, students from the school took a trip to ask that lawmakers in Tallahassee take steps to make Florida housing more affordable and slow down rent increases.

“We’re learning, we’re being responsible, but how are lawmakers going to help,” Robinson asked. “Because we’re in a crisis right now, and everyone’s got to do their part to make sure that people can afford to live.”

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