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St. Pete Mayor Ken Welch marks 100 days in office, focuses on affordable housing

St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch
Posted at 4:32 PM, Apr 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-18 16:32:37-04

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch just reached his first 100 days in office. He’s focused on the future in the growing city including tackling the most pressing issue: A lack of affordable housing.

Mayor Welch told ABC Action News he is proud of what his administration has accomplished so far but believes more needs to be done to address the growing problem.

“We are focusing on increasing inventory. The projects coming in are great, but they are in the hundreds of units, we need much more than that and that will be the focus of our administration for the foreseeable future,” he added.

Aaron Dietrich, a member of the People’s Council of St. Petersburg and advocate for affordable housing agrees.

“I’m very encouraged to see Mayor Ken Welch is the one at the helm right now because I think he gets it better than most. Yet, what I have to say from personal experience sleeping on a friend’s couch right now and for my friends and family struggling to find housing, it needs to be more and it needs to be faster and I’m hopeful he can get us there,” Dietrich said.

The People’s Council of St. Petersburg plans to meet with Welch to discuss solutions on Wednesday, April 20th.

Welch also talked about his ongoing priorities including combatting sea level rise, transportation, his work on the redevelopment of Tropicana Field, attracting high-wage jobs, investing in youth programming, approving a $15 minimum wage for city employees, combatting structural racism and disparities and working to keep the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg.

Welch and his administration listed off some of the key programs they have tackled to deal with affordable housing so far including:

  • Down payment assistance for first-time homebuyers: In early February, Mayor Welch signed off on a policy change increasing the amount of down payment assistance available to first-time homebuyers to $60,000. The city also expanded its loan forgiveness policy for the assistance, allowing full-forgiveness to those earning at or below 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI) after 10-years of continued occupancy in the home. For those earning above 80% AMI, full repayment was previously required. Under the new policy, those individuals could qualify for half loan forgiveness.
  • Homeowner Rehabilitation Assistance Program: The city also expanded its program for existing homeowners to make needed improvements to their homes, ensuring residents are able to stay in the homes they already own. Under the previous policy, homeowners in the extremely low-income to moderate-income range could receive up to $45,000 for home repairs and improvements, with up to 50% reimbursement required over 15 years. The new policy increased the funding available to qualifying homeowners to $60,000 and is now offering full-forgiveness of the loan to households earning at or below 80% AMI after 10-years of continued occupancy in the home.
  • South St. Petersburg CRA Developer Incentive Program-Land Acquisition Incentive: The city expanded the amount available to developers constructing affordable single-family homes within the South St. Petersburg CRA. Previously, developers could tap into a direct $10,000 incentive for homes constructed within the CRA targeting buyers at or below 120% AMI. The city added a new reimbursement of up to half of the land acquisition cost to developers, up to $40,000, if the developer sells the new single-family home to a buyer at or below 80% AMI. The city also increased its standard incentive from $10,000 to $15,000, with the existing 120% AMI threshold still in place if the buyer is already a resident renter within the CRA.
  • Delmar 745: In early March, residents began moving into the Delmar 745 affordable housing project in downtown St. Pete. The project provides access to true affordable and workforce housing within a 12-story, 65-unit apartment community. Half of the units (33) are targeted for individuals and families who were formerly unhoused.
  • Skyway Lofts: The 65-unit affordable housing complex located at 3900 34th St. South opened its doors to residents in early February. The apartment community serves households earning up to 120% AMI, with units reserved for those at or below 30% and 80% AMI.
  • Emergency Rental Assistance: In partnership with Pinellas County government, the St. Petersburg City Council approved in mid-March expanding access to Emergency Rental Assistance funding from the County. Due to increased demand for assistance, the city exhausted all of its $16 million available for rental assistance. The County agreed to make $18 million from its portion of the American Rescue Plan Act available to St. Pete residents, which was previously only accessible to residents residing within the county. The deal also included expanding access to those who reside in motels and other short-term housing who were previously ineligible for the assistance. Under the agreement, qualifying households will receive assistance for up to 120-days, subject to fund availability. The expanded access is crucial for St. Pete residents. More than 43% of the county’s low- and moderate-income residents reside within the city, despite only 27% of the county’s residents living within city limits.
  • Harvard Kennedy Affordable Housing Study: The city paved the way for a comprehensive affordable housing study completed by a team of graduate students from the Harvard Kennedy School evaluated existing challenges the city faces with affordable housing, possible solutions and future information-gathering needs. The study sought to answer four questions: What does affordable housing mean for St. Pete; what factors have caused St. Pete’s current housing crisis; what policies are most effective/ineffective for addressing housing affordability; and who do various policy options serve, and who do they exclude? The study found the price of new rentals in St. Petersburg jumped nearly 25% in 2021, the third highest increase in the nation. One reason for the increase in prices is that, as demand for housing has increased, supply has not caught up. The study found that from 2020 to 2021, investor purchases of residential land increased by 79%. From 2011 to 2021, investor residential purchases increased 520%.