ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Like many other renters, Carolyn Ballenger is in a predicament that only makes her more and more nervous as each day passes.
“My lease was not going to be renewed, and I was given that notice four days before Christmas,” Ballenger said.
She says the unit she’s called home is due to be renovated and upgraded, which is the reason she now must move out. Ballenger and her 30 year old daughter, who both receive disability benefits as their primary sources of income, are now struggling to find a new place they can afford or even qualify for.
“I have some new builds that are offering affordable housing, and I’m just praying that we qualify for some of those affordable housing options and that we can get into them,” Ballenger said.
Ballenger believes elected leaders can and should do more, which is why she plans to join the People’s Council of St. Petersburg for a Saturday meeting at Williams Park.
The group, which describes itself as a movement of renters and allies pushing for more affordable housing, wants St. Pete leaders to declare a housing state of emergency. It also wants them to freeze rents for a year and develop longer-term solutions during that moratorium.
“What we’re seeing, you know, really, is that this type of action is about sitting people down in a very pragmatic way to say, ‘Look, let’s talk about solving problems,” said Aaron Dietrich, a community organizer with the People’s Council of St. Pete. “I think what we’re seeing is a real movement where people are recognizing that we need a new approach to solve problems in the city.”
Dietrich says as renters like Ballenger and others gather at Williams Park Saturday, they will get the chance to vote on what the group should do next in its fight to spur elected leaders to act. Late last year, the group held a petition drive. Now, other tactics to escalate their push for change are being considered.
“The remaining tactics that residents have voted on was a mass demonstration and also followed by an occupation or tent city, if city leaders failed to respond,” said Dietrich.
In his inaugural address last week, Mayor Ken Welch said he’s prepared to give the lack of affordable housing a “higher level of focus, and Welch said he appointed a new administrator who will focus on preserving and developing more affordable and workforce housing.
Dietrich is optimistic about Welch’s leadership.
Nevertheless, the community organizer says time is of the essence as renters like Ballenger approach the brink of homelessness.
“We’re not doing enough,” warned Ballenger. “We’re not doing near enough.”
The People’s Council of St. Pete says all are welcome to attend the Saturday meeting at Williams Park at 12 p.m.