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Co-living’s place in St. Pete’s affordable housing puzzle

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Shared walls went out of style at the height of the pandemic, but the entrepreneurs behind St. Pete real estate company Docked Living believe people need accessible, tight-knit communities more than ever.

Docked Living is a “housing subscription” company in St. Pete, where residents pay one all-inclusive monthly fee to rent rooms in buildings they share with like-minded people.

According to Nicholas Price, developer at Docked Living LLC, kitchens, porches and yards become social spaces, and residents can even throw events with private chefs paid for by Docked.

“Most of the people that come to these properties are looking into the community and the connection that comes with them,” Price told the Catalyst.

But aside from intentional living, the company claims their properties cater to another demand St. Pete is in short supply of: affordability.

Docked’s rooms range from $750-950 per month, which they advertise as an affordable housing option. And to many renters looking to live in the heart of St. Pete, that price looks pretty good.

Joe Farrell, vice president of public affairs for the Pinellas Realtor Organization, told the Catalyst that rising rents and home prices are pushing people from places like downtown St. Pete to surrounding suburbs, where lack of public transportation options may leave them struggling to get to work.

Farrell also said that while “one solution is never the solution to anything,” his organization approves of housing alternatives like co-living because it adds one more option for residents who want to contribute to downtown St. Pete’s revitalization.

Docked Living owns four properties in four different St. Pete neighborhoods: Kenwood, Jordan Park, Harbordale and Central Oak Park. And despite having “one boomer” under Docked’s roofs, Price says their company serves a younger crowd, and does not yet provide options for families.

Dr. Elizabeth Strom, associate professor at University of South Florida focusing on Urban politics, policy and housing issues, said that most people in need of affordable housing belong to families with children.

The equation Strom uses to determine when housing is affordable is whether a household is able to pay under 30% of their income towards total housing costs. For young professionals in downtown St. Pete, co-living may be a good option, but “it fits the needs of a very limited population,” she added.

As more affordable housing options are being built in St. Pete’s southside, Docked Living Founder Mark Hunter is also working on responding to the needs of communities outside of his co-living consumer base.

Hunter funds a nonprofit called Alma Ventures, which has been focused on building alternative homes in St. Petersburg that cost less than $100,000. The philanthropist told the Catalyst that while he has achieved some success, he has also butted heads with the City of St. Petersburg’s Zoning Department.

“(The zoning department’s) job is to just follow the rules,” Hunter said. “They don’t think about the effects of those rules.”

In one dispute, Hunter claims the department required Alma to include a driveway at a property they built for a group of young adults Hunter had been mentoring, but none of them owned cars or planned to own cars in the near future.

“So why would we spend $15,000 to put in a two-car driveway?” he said.

Jennifer Bryla, development review manager for the zoning department, said she’s “equally frustrated” with Hunter’s properties. According to her, Alma Ventures and Docked Living did not follow zoning codes, or did not fully divulge their co-living plans to the city. While renovations to single-family residential homes are acceptable, renting them by the room is not.

“I can’t make up the rules,” Bryla added.

Hunter says he is now taking larger plans for single-family affordable housing to cities like Pinellas Park, where he claims local governments are easier to work with.

“We know that there’s thousands of people that would love to sign up for a house that they can own for 600 bucks a month,” he concluded. “And we’d love to have (St. Pete’s) support in doing that.”

Meanwhile, Docked is constructing its fifth co-living property near the Deuces neighborhood of 22nd Street South. St. Petersburg’s City Council also approved additional funding to incentivize affordable housing construction in their latest budget draft.

 

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