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Housing advocates look forward to rent, housing changes in St. Pete

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Posted at 5:41 PM, Aug 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-04 08:12:19-04

ST. PEPTE, Fla. — By 2030, the city of St. Pete said it wants to add another 24,000 multifamily units specifically for low-income families. The city is now working with developers to bring more affordable options and quickly.

But some advocates, like St. Pete Tenants Union organizer Jack Wallace, said they would like to see more protections to ensure even more affordable housing as St. Pete's population continues to grow. Wallace said he and his organization have multiple goals.

"In the short term, we're fighting for rent control," he said.

It's a conversation many counties and cities throughout Florida are having. The bump in the road: state law.

Florida Statute Title XII preempts rent control. The only way a city or county can enact it is through a one-year emergency rent control. That can only happen if local lawmakers declare a housing state of emergency and residents vote in favor.

Wallace said rent control is just the beginning of protecting housing for all. A Harvard Kennedy Transitional Term Study of Mayor Ken Welch found rent in St. Pete increased 24% in 2021.

In 2020, St. Pete adopted a 10-year Affordable Housing Plan. The plan details how the city will bring in 24,000 more affordable multifamily units.

The Harvard Kennedy study found 51% of homeowners making less than half of the area median spent more than half of their earnings on housing in 2020. 69% of renters spent that much in 2021.

Wallace said with those numbers in mind; he wants to see the city's 10-year plan move towards a more city-funded model.

"Public money is going into this, maybe we should just own it. The city should own these places," he said.

Part of the plan includes 200 nonsubsidized workforce density bonus units. St. Pete said they want this piece of the plan to encourage developers to include affordable housing components in their complexes.

Advocates pushing for more affordable housing said mixed-rate complexes need to do more to welcome low-income renters; from more available units, to what goes inside the retail portion of the buildings.

"People of the Southside need to be able to go somewhere to find fresh fruits and veggies and groceries in general. People need to be able to find a place to eat healthy and eat regular food," said Wallace.

A Sleep-In is planned for Wednesday night to protest rent control and a tax break referendum the city is looking into.

"We thought this was a really good way to sort of be able to have more of a intimate setting with people, right. Not necessarily all about chanting and sort of, you know, hearing speeches, but just sort of being able to talk with each other, just sort of about, you know, like swapping housing stories, basically, right, like just how this housing crisis has affected people in St. Pete," said Wallace.