Patricia Ford has been packing up the house she fell in love with and has rented since December 2019.
At 71, Ford, who lives on a fixed income, doesn’t know where she will go next Tuesday – Aug. 31 — the deadline to get out of the two-bedroom Coquina Key home that was sold from under her. Friday, the Realtor called to see whether she’ll be out by then.
Yes. Where to, is the real question.
Ford, who lives with a son, said most two-bedroom apartments she’s inquired about rent for $1,300 to $1,400 a month, which she can’t afford. She pays $1,000 a month now. She’s on a waiting list for senior housing, but was told the wait will be six months to a year.
She’s called motels – the decent ones — asking for monthly rates. “They’re over $1,200 a month, so you can’t win for losing,” she said.
Ford says she is working with a credit repair company because she had too many credit cards. But, she said, she’s never missed a month paying her rent.
She can move in with family, but wants her independence. Besides, she said, “All of their houses are full, so I don’t want to inconvenience anybody.”
Ford’s story tells of Pinellas County’s affordable housing crisis.
The Rev. Lee Hall-Perkins, senior pastor at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Clearwater, is co-chair of the affordable housing committee for FAST (Faith and Action for Strength Together), an interfaith and multi-racial group of more than 40 Pinellas congregations that works to solve community issues such as education and housing.
“We are most concerned about the dollars that are already designated for affordable housing, and when we say affordable housing, we are talking about families of four making $56,000 or less a year, and that is 80 percent of the AMI (area median income) or less,” he said.
“What the city of St. Petersburg and also our county is doing is trying to expand what affordable housing is to families who make up to 120 percent of the AMI, which is a little over $80,000. We are concerned about those families who need it the most and that’s the group that is in the 80 percent AMI and below.”
Hall-Perkins said when county commissioners approved four housing developments recently using Penny for Pinellas money, three were completely for families making 80 percent AMI and below. However, he said, “We were disappointed in the fourth project, which included units for families making up to 120 percent AMI.”
The pastor added that the decision went against the county’s resolution meant to address affordable housing.
There is some hope.
St. Petersburg launched a 10-year plan in 2020 to solve the affordable housing problem. In part, it would create and preserve 2,400 multi-family units.
But following a year of pandemic setbacks, only eight units are complete — Preserves at Clam Bayou, 4146 34th Ave. S — with another 413 in varying stages of development. Rob Gerdes, the city’s neighborhood affairs administrator, says he has high confidence in all being completed.
The majority of units will be for those whose household income is 60 percent of the AMI and below.
According to the latest data from HUD’s Comprehensive Housing Affordability Strategy, 36,470 of the city’s households are “cost-burdened,” that is, pay more than 30 percent of their gross income to put a roof over their heads.
“We’re trying to decrease that percentage as much as possible,” Gerdes said.
Besides encouraging multi-family housing with affordable rents, the city also has made zoning changes to encourage accessory dwellings to single family homes. Gerdes says there has been a “dramatic increase” in accessory dwelling construction, with about 40 currently permitted or under construction.
He also touted the city’s lot disposition program in which lots are provided for construction of affordable single-family homes.
Among the affordable housing projects expected to be complete in coming months is Delmar 745. The downtown St. Petersburg project, which upset neighboring property owners, had been stalled because of a change in general contractors, Gerdes said. It should be finished by the end of the year, he said.
SkyWay Lofts off 34th Street S, next to a Dunkin’ Donuts in the Skyway Marina District, is a busy construction site. Ryan Raghoo, assistant vice president of acquisitions for Blue Sky Communities, said work is expected to finish soon. “Our goal is to be done by December,” he said, with people moving in by January.
The “vast majority” of its 65 one- and two-bedroom units will be rented to people whose income is 60 percent of the AMI, he said.
Blue Sky Communities is also planning another project in St. Petersburg. Scott Macdonald, executive vice president and CFO, said the company hopes to break ground at 635 64th St. S in late 2022. The property is currently owned by Grace Connection Church. Word of an affordable housing project at that site also drew the ire of the neighboring community.
The four-story development will be known as Bear Creek Commons and create 85 units for renters 55 and over. Macdonald said 90 percent of the one- and two-bedroom units will be rented to people whose income is 60 percent of the AMI. The other 10 percent will be for people at 30 percent.
But important details are yet to be finalized. Blue Sky Communities has not secured all of its financing. Some of it will require city money.
“The city continues to work on housing affordability at Grace Connection,” Gerdes said of the project. “We recently discussed with City Council the possibility of the city funding an affordable senior development there….That money is not approved, but I would anticipate right now it looks like there would be an approximately $2.5 million in potential local government contribution.”
Blue Sky Communities also has plans to build an affordable multi-family development in downtown Clearwater. The nine-story building at 610 Franklin St. will be known as Blue Dolphin Tower and offer mostly one- and two-bedroom units, with a few with three bedrooms. The company hopes to finish the 81-unit project in spring 2023.
It takes a lot to bring affordable housing to fruition, Macdonald said, adding that St. Petersburg “has been great in coming up with funding and other creative solutions to address affordable housing.”
The city gave a $90,000 loan for the SkyWay Lofts project, which also received $700,000 in Penny for Pinellas money from the county.
“The main thing that people don’t understand is how much funding it takes, not just at the federal and state level, but also the local level,” Macdonald said of the quest for affordable housing. “These are public-private partnerships. That means public all the way down to the local municipalities to even try to make a dent in the affordable housing crisis we have in Pinellas County. It takes a collaboration of funding from the federal level all the way down to the city level to make these deals happen.”
But the deals aren’t happening fast enough for many.
“Housing affordability is definitely the number one issue in the Tampa Bay area,” said Karla Correa, an organizer with the St. Petersburg Tenants Union.
“I spoke with somebody who had the option of re-signing their lease for a $200 increase if they signed by Aug. 31, or a $300 increase if they signed by Sept. 30, or if not renewing their lease, it would roll over month-to-month for a $500 increase. We desperately need rent control here.”
On another housing matter, the St. Petersburg Tenants Union is planning a protest with other groups at noon Saturday, in front of U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist’s St. Petersburg office. They will voice their objection to this week’s Supreme Court’s rejection of the Biden administration’s extension of the eviction moratorium.
Meanwhile, Patricia Ford keeps packing. She’s putting her belongings in storage for now.