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'It's an emergency': Tampa Bay rent increasing faster than any other area in the nation

St. Pete group demands emergency rental freeze
St. Pete tower
Posted at 4:05 PM, Oct 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-11 06:53:20-04

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Several people in St. Petersburg are coming together to demand the city do more to combat rising rent prices. The group claims St. Pete, and Tampa Bay, are in the middle of a housing emergency.

Rent prices are skyrocketing across Tampa Bay and some argue help is not coming soon enough for hundreds of people at risk of being priced out of their homes.

Karla Correa of the St. Petersburg Tenant’s Union just got the news that her rent is going up $250 a month.

“Luckily, I have a roommate, but it’s definitely going to hurt my pockets, because I won’t be able to buy as much food and other things I need,” she explained. “I’m also on a month-to-month lease and that means they can raise my rent from one month to the next.”

In some areas of St. Petersburg, rent has increased 20% in a single year according to apartment listing site Rent Café. On average across the city, 800 square foot, 1-bedroom apartments are going for nearly $1,700 dollars a month.

“We’re talking to people who have lived in this city all of their lives and they’re coming out and saying look we don’t know how long we can hang on,” explained Aaron Dietrich of SEIU Florida Public Services Union.

The issue isn’t just in St. Pete. A recent study by CoStar Group found rent in Tampa Bay is rising faster than any other metro area in the nation.

“This is really becoming a huge emergency,” Correa added.

Now, Correa and Dietrich alongside a large coalition of people from other organizations, are getting community members together to demand St. Pete leaders freeze rent prices. They met with a group of more than 150 people (some in person, others over zoom) Thursday, October 7th to discuss the issue.

“Everybody is just feeling incredibly insecure about that most fundamental of securities: having a roof over your head,” Dietrich explained.

ABC Action News reached out to St. Petersburg leaders and was told state statutes keep city leaders from being able to impose rent controls. However, the group hopes an emergency order can be put in place allowing an exception to the statute. The Florida statute states: “No law, ordinance, rule, or other measure which would have the effect of imposing controls on rents shall be adopted or maintained in effect except as provided herein and unless it is found and determined, as hereinafter provided, that such controls are necessary and proper to eliminate an existing housing emergency which is so grave as to constitute a serious menace to the general public.”

St. Pete leaders also say the city is investing $60 million towards affordable and workforce housing over the next 10 years.

They also recently renewed a program that gives up to 18 months of emergency rent assistance during the pandemic.

Correa and Dietrich are asking for an emergency declaration from the city to be able to put rent freezes in place. They, alongside other community organizations, are also asking for more short-term solutions to deal with what they consider a growing crisis. They say, often, solutions do not come quick enough to help people on the verge of being priced out.

“Our most valuable asset in this entire city - the people, the history the culture is at risk of being lost,” Deitrich elaborated.