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As St. Pete revisits affordable housing, one council member gets personal about why it matters

Margie Manning

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Darden Rice
St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice

St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice credits the availability of affordable housing for her opportunity to stay in a familiar school and maintain her friendships when she was a child.

Rice shared her personal story during a council committee meeting, as the city considers ways to increase affordable housing throughout St. Petersburg.

City officials expect to propose a package of changes intended to increase affordable housing choices by this summer, Liz Abernethy, planning and development services director, told council members. The city is looking at updates to its comprehensive plan and its land development regulations that would expand the areas where lower-cost housing could be built.

St. Petersburg has a shortage of homes and apartments that young adults and working families can afford, Jillian Bandes, vice president at Bandes Construction, told the council’s Housing, Land Use & Transportation Committee on Feb. 11. In Pinellas county, 40 percent of residents pay more than one-third of their income on housing and the cost is going up.

“A new study found that the cost of renting a one-bedroom in St. Pete went up nearly 16 percent in just one year from 2019 to 2020. That puts St. Pete at No. 4 out of the 100 largest US cities for the highest increase in the rental price of a one-bedroom,” Bandes said.

Home sale prices also are on the rise.

“According to the Pinellas Realtor Organization, from 2010 to 2020, the average sales price of a home more than doubled from $185,000 to $385,000. In just the past five years, the average sales price of a home in St. Pete went up 62 percent,” Bandes said. “It’s getting harder for St. Pete and its businesses to attract working young adults and families. They simply can’t afford to live here.”


Related: St. Petersburg makes progress toward housing equity


Bandes, founder of the nonprofit organization YIMBY St. Pete — an acronym for “Yes In My Backyard” —  and Leigh Fletcher, managing member of Fletcher Fischer Pollack in St. Petersburg, discussed several  changes the city could consider to expand housing choices. 

One proposal is “upzoning,” which allows more than one unit of housing per lot. That lowers the cost of construction and lowers the sale price or rent for each unit. Upzoning also would relax restrictions on where homeowners could build accessory dwelling units, or ADUs — an additional unit of housing that could be rented by a homeowner to a tenant, or used by multigenerational families.

In 2019, the City Council approved zoning changes that allow up to four units on lots previously zoned for one unit, but the measure did not define the areas where the changes could occur, Bandes said. The Council asked the city staff to hold neighborhood meetings to determine which areas would benefit the most from the proposal, but the Covid-19 pandemic prevented those meetings from occurring. Abernethy said she hopes to schedule meetings this spring.

Other suggestions include:

  • Encourage inclusionary zoning, which requires a portion of new construction be designed for people with low to moderate incomes.
  • Allow builders, developers and homeowners to combine parcels in conjunction with upzoning, and allow other regulatory reforms that encourage more housing construction.
  • Activate city-sanctioned shared-equity home ownership, or programs that allow homeowners to build equity in their property while capping appreciation to ensure the home is still affordably priced for the next buyer.
  • Adapt architectural design standards that encourage multifamily construction, such as showing two front doors, side door entrances or relaxed height restrictions.

St. Pete Heights Neighborhood Association and Campbell Park Neighborhood Association have asked the city to implement zoning changes in their neighborhoods that would allow for more housing diversity, Bandes said.

Without committing to specific ideas, each of the council members at the committee meeting, including Rice, said they favored in principle the idea of increased housing choices.

Rice’s parents divorced when she was in junior high school, she said. Her mother, a single working mom, had custody of Rice and her brother, but they had to move from a large house in a nice neighborhood, Rice said.

“The ability for her to find a duplex that was nestled in a neighborhood adjacent to where we had lived allowed a lot of things,” Rice said. “It allowed my mom to keep her children in the school district we were already in, and it enabled me to continue my friendships and relationships. How important is that? I’m still friends with that group of women who were my best friends back then. They are my lifelong friends.”

As an adult, Rice bought her first home in the Old Southeast neighborhood in 1997. A friend, a single mother, also bought a home in the neighborhood that had a garage apartment.

“She was able to use the income from that garage apartment to get better financing with a better debt-to-income ratio and to use the rent from that apartment to help support herself and her daughter,” Rice said. “She still owns that house now. It’s the stability of an owner who’s owned a house in the same neighborhood for 20 years. She was also able to send her daughter to Eckerd College, and her daughter is an executive at Raymond James now.”

Rice, who is a candidate for mayor, said people were lucky to get these opportunities in the past. “It just makes so much sense to be able to offer duplexes, triplexes or a quadraplex in areas that are more interspersed throughout the community.”

As the city moves forward with ideas to change the housing status quo, communication and outreach to residents is vital, said Rice and Council member Brandi Gabbard, who chairs the Housing committee.

“Fear will take over if we don’t communicate properly,” Gabbard said. “Don’t be afraid to have conversations about affordable housing and don’t be afraid to call it what it is … it is a housing crisis we are facing. It is a quality of life issue, and if we don’t tackle it we’ll end up being a place like San Francisco where no one can afford to live.”

Abernethy said she and her staff will be doing community workshops and will be available to speak at neighborhood association meetings to get public input prior to developing a specific housing package.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Barry Koestler

    February 15, 2021at4:23 pm

    Saint Petersburg would indeed be lucky to be compared to San Francisco!

    I’d like to live on Beach Drive but can’t afford it.

    The city should not be spending taxpayer money on what the housing market should look like.

    Let the market determine the type of housing available, just as it did in the case mentioned about Darden Rice. It was a private citizen who decided to construct a duplex, not the city.

    It seems that anytime public monies are involved, it always enriches a chosen few. Let the market determine what should or should not be built. Keep public monies out of the debate.

  2. Avatar

    Maria Scruggs

    February 15, 2021at11:42 pm

    I watched city council members and County Commissioners support Mayor Kriseman’s dismantling of Jordan Park. Those same individuals did nothing to support Jordan Park as long as it was led by a black man – who was able to keep the project moving in spite of public efforts to see him fail. That project would have put 30 seniors in decent and affordable low income housing. If affordable housing was such a priority why would public officials support the dismantling of the Jordan Park senior village?

  3. Avatar

    Cherylyn Blake

    February 16, 2021at9:33 am

    Wow Maria I agree with you whole heartedly. I am a single mother with my disability at $984 and $900 goes to rent and its choking me so badly. I have $258 in child support but May is the last month for that as my daughter graduates from high school. So things are about to get worse. So I’m all for something being done about housing. And the waiting lists are closed. You cant even get on a waiting list.

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