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City Council moves forward with rent control discussions

Mark Parker

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Councilmember Richie Floyd motioned for an update on the legality of declaring a housing state of emergency and instituting rent control at Thursday's meeting. Screengrab.

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.

 

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Georgia Earp

    February 4, 2022at4:26 pm

    Ritchie Floyd is taking housing affordability seriously, and that is a good thing for everyone! I’m glad he taking the lead on this issue on City Council!

  2. Avatar

    John Donovan

    February 4, 2022at6:00 pm

    The WSJ has documented the folly of rent control for longer than some council members have been alive. And it is still a bad idea.

  3. Avatar

    Hazeltine Hugh

    February 4, 2022at8:48 pm

    Freakonomics has a podcast about rent control. It is an hour well spent if you want to understand the issue.

  4. Avatar

    Mike

    February 5, 2022at7:39 am

    The last people on earth I want setting prices is the government.

  5. Avatar

    Steven D

    February 5, 2022at9:26 am

    Yeah, California and New York have tried this. All it accomplishes is punishing landlords for improving their properties. So, guess what. You get horrible housing that nobody wants to live in; urban decay; crime; etc. The answer is: making it easier to build more housing.

  6. Avatar

    Lisa

    February 5, 2022at2:48 pm

    Why don’t we also start restricting the sale price of all housing in St Petersburg as well? Why should sellers get the most money from the buyer willing to pay it? How about restricting the skyrocketing gas and food prices? That has all risen too but y’all forget about that which affects middle to low income people even more.

    Attempting to tell a private owner how much they’re allowed to charge for rent to a tenant is next level fascism. It’s the city’s version of Robin Hood.

  7. Avatar

    Kimberly

    February 5, 2022at9:06 pm

    It’s easy to be armchair critics. If any of you have a better idea at least have the same level of courage it took the people affected by the housing crisis to stand up and speak in front of City Council.

  8. Avatar

    Karen Kirkpatrick

    February 6, 2022at9:56 pm

    At least a discussion will be held. Something has to be done. People who have lived here for years are being forced into homelessness.

  9. Avatar

    Karen Kirkpatrick

    February 6, 2022at10:00 pm

    I agree. This is why I voted for Floyd.

  10. Avatar

    Patricia

    February 9, 2022at8:04 am

    Thus sounds good but it does not address escalating property taxes, homeowner’s and flood insurances. Landlords have to pass on these increases to renters even if they do not make improvements to their properties. The City is pushing renters and some homeowners out bc these insurance and taxes are out of control.

  11. Avatar

    Mike

    February 9, 2022at9:50 am

    Kimberly, how many times do people have to make the same mistake? Rent control is a failed idea, this have been proven time and time and time again. We don’t need to try it again. hard work does not equal positive outcomes not matter how loudly people chirp. Bad ideas at higher volume do not magically become better ideas.

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