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City dedicates $3 million to struggling renters

Mark Parker



From left: Melissa Seixas, president of Duke Energy Florida; Mayor Ken Welch; and City Council Chair Deborah Figgs-Sanders announce the city's new Renters Utility Relief program Friday. Photo by Mark Parker.

Utility rates have soared alongside rents, leaving some residents to choose what bills they can afford to pay in any given month. They now have a new resource.

The City of St. Petersburg has dedicated $3 million in federal funding to establish the Renter Utility Relief program. Mayor Ken Welch, in partnership with Duke Energy and the Pinellas County Urban League (PCUL), made the formal announcement Friday morning at the Enoch Davis Center.

The initiative will help renters – and landlords – pay past-due water, sanitation and electric bills. Program officials will apply funding directly to the recipient’s account balance, with awards currently averaging between $500 and $600.

The funding stems from the pandemic-era Emergency Rental Assistance program, which provided $7.23 million between April 2021 and July 2022. Welch noted utility costs are a critical component of housing affordability.

He called the Utility Relief program a “beacon of hope” for those struggling to keep pace with continuously rising prices. Applications are now open to St. Petersburg residents who earn at or below 80% of the area median income, currently $69,500 for a four-person household.

City Council Chair Deborah Figgs-Sanders said many constituents must make “impossible choices” between keeping the lights on and rationing food. She called the initiative a lifeline for those facing insurmountable past-due bills.

“This program is not just about financial assistance,” Figgs-Sanders added. “It’s about providing a chance to reduce the suffocating burden of debt.”

Melissa Seixas, president of St. Petersburg-based Duke Energy Florida, blamed increasing rates on the natural gas costs tripling over since 2021. She said those prices are now declining.

Seixas expects customers to see lower electric bills by the end of the year. She also expressed the company’s commitment to long-term solutions by investing in more efficient power plants and alternative fuel sources.

Duke’s local roots trace back to the St. Petersburg Electric Light and Power Company, which began serving the new city’s residents in 1899. Seixas said the conglomerate recognizes that “utility bills compete against a lot of other priorities.”

“Powering the lives of our customers goes well beyond flipping on the light and having service,” she said. “It’s what we can do – and should do – every single day to ensure … our customers are prospering.”

Landlords who include utility costs in rental agreements can also apply for funding. Unlike residents, they are not bound by income limits.

In addition, the application relies on self-attestation. The city does not require lease agreements or financial information.

Carly Pannella, a housing and community development official, helped create the platform. “It deters people when they have to provide leases and pay stubs,” Pannella told the Catalyst. “We’re trusting the residents, and we know they need the help.”

While the city did not formally announce the program until today, Panella said she has already screened 775 applications. She said “savvy residents” noticed the new web portal and shared the information with neighbors.

Panella said just 10 of the applicants self-identified as a landlord. David Flintom, a billing and collections official, said the city has already committed over $80,000 to municipal utilities.

Panella said Duke has allocated $150,000 to delinquent electric accounts in the past 10 days. Flintom noted there is no funding limit for approved applicants.

Residents can receive up to 18 months of assistance, per federal guidelines. Flintom explained that if a customer is three months behind, they would have 15 months of eligibility after the initial payment.

He noted that a new tenant noticed a water leak immediately after turning on her water. Flintom said the landlord “dragged his feet for a few months,” and her bill topped $28,000.

He said the city eliminated $13,000 after the landlord repaired the leak, “but she was left holding the bag for $15,000.” She now has a zero balance due to the Utility Relief program.

Nikki Gaskin-Capehart, CEO of the PCUL, said her organization has helped residents pay utility bills since 1993. She said it has provided $3.3 million in assistance since July 2023.

“The demand always exceeds our supply of funding,” Gaskin-Capehart added. “That’s why Congresswoman (Kathy) Castor bringing this funding home is so very important to our community.”

To apply for the Renter Utility Relief program, visit the website here.



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  1. Avatar


    March 27, 2024at3:41 pm

    Baffling. A landlord refused to fix a known leak. The city forgave $13k of the bill, and the renter was on the hook for $15k? Where is the landlord in this equation? This is 100% the landlord’s responsibility. Why is the city (ahem, us, actually) paying for this? What am I missing?

  2. Avatar

    Steven Brady

    March 23, 2024at3:26 pm

    The number and types of bills that the taxpayers could pay when people can’t pay them could be endless. There’s no mention here of what the metrics are. But clearly somebody’s living in housing that they can’t afford.

    People have been unable to pay their bills periodically forever. Usually lifestyle changes are needed.

    Now the taxpayers step in?

    We’re already paying medical bills. Bills to educate everyone even though a chunk of the population chooses not to avail itself of it and “graduate” illiterate and unable to perform basic math. Power bills. Flood improvements for people who bought in known flood areas. The potential list of expenses taxpayers could pay is theoretically endless as a practical matter.

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    Jack Viskil

    March 23, 2024at11:27 am

    If the property taxes and insurance were lowered to a sustainable rate the rent and mortgages would be easier to manage. Don’t put a 3 million dollar bandaid on a gaping hemmorage. Fix the problem and stop crisis managing the lowest common denominator. They are just going to ask for more.

  4. Avatar


    March 22, 2024at3:39 pm


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    March 22, 2024at3:05 pm

    Meanwhile I just continue to make a fool of myself by lying my own bills. There must be something wrong with me.

  6. Avatar


    March 22, 2024at2:22 pm

    I think it’s great that I work hard to pay taxes and pay my own bills just so I can also pay some deadbeat renters bills. This is definitely the life lessons we should be teaching and an excellent example of leadership and not at all an example of a fatally flawed world view.

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