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Catalyze 2023: Councilmember Brandi Gabbard

Mark Parker



We’re asking thought leaders, business people and creatives to talk about 2023 and give us catalyzing ideas for making St. Pete a better place to live. What should our city look like? What are their hopes, their plans, their problem-solving ideas? This is Catalyze 2023.

St. Petersburg City Council’s incoming chairperson has identified a potentially significant problem-solving idea for 2023: A new policy regarding city-owned land to help address the housing crisis.

Like Mayor Ken Welch, Councilmember Brandi Gabbard believes local leaders should take a “very thoughtful” approach to best utilize city-owned land. Although the idea is still in its infancy, Gabbard noted she has already discussed the matter with administrators, and she believes the council could vote on a resolution in the coming year.

“There are specific categories that we should really dive into and look and see what areas would be best to have a ‘housing-first’ policy when it comes to redeveloping,” said Gabbard. “And how that marries with our unsolicited bid process and how that works within our RFP (request for proposals) process.”

The first step is already underway. Gabbard relayed city officials are now categorizing and taking inventory of properties to develop a usage matrix.

She hopes that concludes by the spring and the city council then approves a resolution supporting the mayor’s implementation of the new policies. Gabbard believes they can “bring it in for a landing” sometime in 2023.

She said approving the recently established rental assistance program for city employees is probably the council’s proudest accomplishment of 2022. It provides a $500 monthly stipend to St. Petersburg’s lowest-paid workers who are required to live within city limits, and she plans to discern ways of expanding the program in the new year.

Gabbard noted she broached the idea in 2018, although it didn’t receive much traction. However, with rents soaring by around 30% over the last two years, it passed through committees and the council and took effect with the new budget in October.

She said several people already applied and were approved, and Gabbard now hopes to enhance down payment assistance options for city employees. She added that city officials are leading by example.

“We’re showing the business community how you can help to support your employees – as it pertains to their housing issues,” said Gabbard. “I’ve had a conversation with the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, and this is something that they’re looking into, as well. To incentivize businesses to be able to provide this benefit.”

Gabbard expressed her belief that local business leaders are looking for ways to follow suit. She elaborated that working with the Florida Legislature could provide tax credits and other incentives to private companies that adopt similar programs.

City officials have also discussed the matter with the local legislative delegation, said Gabbard, and asked them to support any related bills that might arise. She added that many legislators are business owners and understand the housing strain on employees.

“So, I think it will take a lot of collaboration to get it done,” she said. “But this isn’t just a St. Pete issue. Leaders across the state are looking at it, and we realize that this is a place where we could do a lot of good.”

A passion project Gabbard hopes to focus on in 2023 is bolstering food insecurity initiatives. She noted there are still far too many people in the city without access to healthy foods – or any foods, for that matter.

She believes city officials have made progress in that area, including adding staff with “great expertise” and building a coalition of nonprofits and community advocates who understand what it will take to solve the problem. However, Gabbard said leaders are still in the early stages of providing a basic human necessity to everyone in St. Petersburg.

She would like to create a resource and informational hub, incentivize grocery stores to move into areas considered food deserts and expand the Healthy Corner Store initiative in the city.

“There’s a lot we can do,” stated Gabbard. “This is a passion of mine, and I feel like it is a moral calling of elected officials to provide the basic needs of our community. With food being at the top of that list.”



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  1. Avatar

    Ryan Todd

    December 30, 2022at5:13 pm

    Providing housing subsidies is absolutely the way to go in this economic environment. Proformas are changing by the hour due to inflation, supply chain problems, and labor shortages. Developers can’t keep up with the shifting sands and exorbitant development costs. Local governments need to get out of the dwelling unit production game until the next building cycle is underway. Provide housing subsidies in the interim and invest the capital we would otherwise spend on government-supported affordable housing, so we have the ability to build affordable units when it’s feasible.

  2. Avatar

    Carl Hebinck

    December 31, 2022at12:21 pm

    Ms. Gabbard: Your ideas are really out there. Expect resistance. May I present a bold idea?

    In particular may I address one of your ideas “affainable housing for people at all income levels,”
    If we use the vacant lots you speak of and the free land of the backyards in So. St. Pete to build affordable ADU housing on we can provide very affordable housing, without added infrastructure costs. Supplemental income also for home owners in So. St. Pete qualifying for an ADU, having free land–we reduce the cost significantly of new home cost. [Land is about 30% of new house cost]. Your idea to seriously conside vacant land is excellent. And workforce people will be able to live near where they work and no longer need rental assistance. We can do this–and make them truly “affordable” within our nonprofit!

    On the same idea of using vacant lots we now have 9,617 more lots created in CR1, CR2 and CR4 areas to build affordable ADU’s on. We propose to set up a Workshop in this same area to make Structural Insulated Panels [SIPs] for building these ADU’s. You may not be familiar with them. These advanced technology panels are stronger, more energy-efficient and quicker to assemble. [see youtube video: The Future of Residential Housing. 8:47 min.] The ADU houses are finished out conventionally looking like any house–but they ACT differently because of their high energy-efficiency and strength. This is an EASY area we could use [with no land cost].
    Such a workshop can produce panels for as many as 10 small houses a day [with a 4 person crew] and provide the panels at 1/3rd the cost of purchasing and importing them. It would provide good jobs, a chance of employment for graduating youth from PTEC and have a significant positive impact on global warming–a credit to progressive-thinking people like you. It has been stated by City council that St. Pete needs 1,000 affordable units a year for the next 10 year–a gigantic order that requires a bold solution. This workshop would be the catalyst for meeting this challenge that conventional builders have not stepped up to. They’ve proven they’re not much interested in building “affordable” housing–only pulling 60 permits a year when the need is 1,000. The Workshop I speak of can be set up for the cost of just one 1109 sq. ft. new house at current new construction rates in St. Pete. It would be a credit to the City and demonstrate how a City can use advanced technology to solve one of its greatest challenges, Affordable Housing.
    I welcome the opportunity to meet with your and your team to provide details and justification for the low priced ADU housing we are quoting–ADU housing costing less than $100 per sq. ft.–finished.
    Respectfully, Carl Hebinck, Veteran, Retired building contractor, nonprofit Volunteer and hopeful partner with you and the City to address this critical and challenging need you are passionate about.

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