ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — With tears welling in his eyes, Charles Sorensen shared a personal reality he’s still struggling to grasp. He's a missed paycheck away from homelessness, and as housing prices climb, the risk of that happening is exacerbated.
“If I don’t have intervention in housing, I am going to fail,” he said. “I had to look my wife in the eye last night and tell her we’re poor.”
Forced from his St. Petersburg home recently because of a steep rent increase, Sorensen said he’s now struggling to pay rent and other bills at a new apartment in Oldsmar.
“Enough! How about I just don’t go to work? How about we just let all the bills go sideways? How about I go to the homeless shelter? How about after two weeks they will give me help, and then we’ll talk to bankruptcy about all this crap?” he wondered aloud.
Weeks ago, Sorensen clung to a sliver of hope, since there was a possibility St. Pete City Council would declare a housing “state of emergency” and pursue temporary rent control. That hope, however, was dashed last week when council members decided against taking those steps, primarily because of legal concerns.
“I’m still frustrated, Chad,” Sorensen said. “We need help. Please, Mayor (Ken) Welch! Please let me sleep on your couch!”
Sorensen is frustrated enough to join others for a protest at St. Pete City Hall, which is set for 5 p.m. Thursday. It’s being organized by the People’s Council of St. Pete and Aaron Dietrich.
“We remain committed to the State of Emergency declaration, but we are also eager to explore the numerous other policies that elected leaders can explore in this very moment, which includes landlord registries, rehousing assistance, giving tenants months of notice for any rent increase that’s above a certain amount,” said Dietrich.
Dietrich said the Thursday protest won’t aim to break any laws, but the tactics could change if city leaders don’t act soon.
“If there is no response, we are prepared to proceed with that civil disobedience type of action that would look like a tent city in front of City Hall,” he said.
It’s a possibility Sorensen is already preparing for.
“I am going to prepare my body for the [inevitable]. I need to know what it feels like to sleep on the ground — in the cold,” he said. “You know what? I see myself sleeping on the ground real soon.”
Local leaders do plan to take some steps Thursday in response to the increase in housing prices and the shortage of affordable options. St. Pete council members could talk about spending more of the city’s $45 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds on rent assistance.
In Tampa, council members there might take another crack at passing a tenant’s bill of rights, which would protect some renters from discrimination after a previous attempt failed in a narrow vote.