ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It’s getting more expensive to buy a home, rent an apartment and fix up your existing home as the pandemic pushes prices up.
On Tuesday, the City of St. Petersburg made changes to its Down Payment Assistance, Homeowner Rehabilitation Assistance and South St. Petersburg CRA Developer Incentive Program - Land Acquisition Incentive programs.
The city is increasing the amount of down payment assistance available to first-time homebuyers in the city. Currently, first-time homebuyers can access between $5,000 and $40,000 in down payment assistance, depending on household income and whether the home they are purchasing is located within the South St. Pete CRA. Buyers earning at or below 80% of annual median income (about $59,050 a year for a family of four) are currently required to pay back half the assistance, while those earning above 80% AMI must repay the full assistance.
Now, in response to rising housing costs, the city is increasing the maximum amount of available assistance to $60,000 and allowing full forgiveness on the assistance for those earning at or below 80% AMI (about $59,050 a year for a family of four) after 10 years of continued occupancy in the home. Those earning above 80% AMI would receive half-forgiveness on the assistance after 10 years of continued occupancy.
The city’s current Homeowner Rehabilitation Assistance program currently provides up to $45,000 to households in the extremely low-income to the moderate-income range. The program requires up to 50% reimbursement for that assistance over 15 years. The city is increasing the maximum assistance from to $60,000 and will provide full forgiveness for the assistance to households earning at or below 80% AMI after 10 years of continued occupancy.
Changes are also being made to the South St. Petersburg CRA Developer Incentive Program - Land Acquisition Incentive. Due to increases in land values and the difficulty that has presented with acquiring single-family lots to construct new, affordable single-family homes, the city is expanding its assistance for developers who will construct affordable single-family homes within the South St. Petersburg CRA. A current incentive offers a direct $10,000 incentive for a developer who constructs and sells a new home in the area to a buyer at or below 120% AMI (families earning $88,560 or less). The city is adding to its incentives a reimbursement for up to half the land acquisition cost up to $40,000 if the developer sells the new single-family home to a buyer at or below 80% AMI.
The city is also increasing its standard incentive from $10,000 to $15,000, with the existing 120% AMI threshold still in place if the buyer was already a resident renter in the South St. Pete CRA area.
The incentives come at a crucial time. In a single year St. Pete’s Housing Director Joshua Johnson says the median price of a home in St. Pete skyrocketed from $318,000 to $395,000. “Since the influx of all of the folks coming from up North to down here during the pandemic, it has increased everything,” he said.
Karla Correa of the St. Petersburg Tenant’s Union wonders why the incentives don’t target helping renters. She would like to see the city declare a state of emergency and consider a citywide rent freeze.
“These incentives aren’t going to guarantee people housing and that’s what we need to see in this city. We don’t have to tell the people in St. Pete that this is an emergency. We know that it’s an emergency. We feel it in our pockets,” she added.
Correa is pushing city leaders to do more to increase affordable housing. She’s organizing a emergency demonstration to call attention to the issue on February 17 at 5 p.m. on the steps of St. Pete City Hall.