Since approving a resolution to explore the legality of declaring a housing state of emergency during the last St. Petersburg City Council meeting of 2021, council members have largely remained silent on the next steps – until now.
During Thursday’s council meeting, newly elected councilmember Richie Floyd broached the controversial topic of rent control. The City Council last heard the issue late into the night of Dec. 17, when they voted 6-1 to explore a housing state of emergency that could halt rent increases for a year.
The debate on how best to address the affordable housing crisis in St. Pete reached a tipping point in 2021, with the People’s Council of St. Petersburg and the SEIU Florida Public Services Union hosting several meetings and demonstrations decrying the severity of the issue. Dozens of residents waited until around 8 p.m. on Dec. 17 to deliver impassioned pleas for help from city officials. On Thursday, Floyd said it was time to take the next steps.
“If we’re going to move forward, if this body decides to move forward with a state of emergency, then it’s probably necessary for us to do it quickly if we determine it’s an emergency,” Floyd told his fellow councilmembers.
Floyd specifically requested a referral to the Housing, Land Use and Transportation Committee (HLUT), or any other relevant committee, to update the council on the proposed housing state of emergency and rent control. His goal is to hear resolution language as soon as scheduling permits.
Floyd said he is hopeful that the process begins quickly, and while HLUT is a housing committee, he said he was open to discussions in other formats to move on the issue as soon as possible.
“That’s what my intent is here, and I look forward to discussing it with you all,” he added.
Vice-Chair Brandi Gabbard seconded the motion and told Floyd that when she first read his new business item, she immediately checked the HLUT committee’s availability.
“So, we can have this discussion, and I do understand legal is ready,” said Gabbard, who oversees the committee. “So, we can have this discussion next week.”
Council Chair Gina Driscoll said she appreciated the efficiency.
Councilmember Lisset Hanecwicz said she had no problem with a referral to the HLUT committee, but she did want clarification on the language. She said it was her understanding from case law that the council only needed an ordinance, not a resolution, to effectuate rent control. She also noted an ordinance would come after a public hearing.
Floyd said he thought a resolution declaring a housing state of emergency was a prerequisite to creating an ordinance that would enforce rent control.
“I’m just looking to take an initial step,” said Floyd. “I’m just hoping to be able to get things moving without us getting too bogged down in this moment.”
The city’s legal counsel advised that a resolution was not required, and an ordinance could incorporate any language included in a resolution. While enacting a rent control measure would ultimately require an ordinance, nothing prohibits a resolution of a statement of policy.
Hanecwicz said she questioned why the council would create an extra step if the issue was urgent.
In December, late into the night of her last meeting as a member of the city council, Amy Foster motioned for the incoming administration to review the proposed resolution and legality of declaring a housing state of emergency. The city council approved the motion 6-1 with former councilmember Robert Blackmon voting against the measure and Councilmember Lisa Wheeler-Bowman absent.
Councilmember Ed Montanari voted in favor of the inquiry in December. He said he would again support further discussion despite his opposition to a rent control ordinance, for consistency’s sake.
“I always vote for issues where we’re trying to provide more information and learn about things,” he said. “But the underlying issue, both the state of emergency and rent control, is something that I’m very much opposed to. But let’s talk about it and kind of see where this conversation goes.”
The city council unanimously approved Floyd’s motion for an update on the legality of a housing state of emergency and rent control at next week’s HLUT meeting, Thursday, Feb. 10, at 8 a.m.