Last week, the City of St. Petersburg unveiled a comprehensive plan to address housing affordability. It was a wonderful event attended by a large cross-section of our community. In fact, most of those in attendance stood with me and in support of the plan as I addressed the media from the podium. The event was held at the beautiful Burlington Post, a 55+ affordable, green-certified, luxury apartment building in our Historic Kenwood Neighborhood.
It’s truly the type of development we need more of in St. Pete, and a reminder that affordable doesn’t mean inferior.
Last year, Councilmember Amy Foster praised the project’s developer and remarked on the work ahead, stating that “If I could do 100 projects with Green Mills Group in St. Petersburg, I would. This development is a step in the right direction, especially for our senior population, but it’s only a drop in the bucket.”
I agree, and I think it’s time we rededicate ourselves to filling up that bucket.
Having said that, City Hall is no stranger to tackling housing issues in our neighborhoods. We’ve made great strides over many years. In late 2018, Governing magazine shined a national spotlight on our success fighting blight, and our council members have worked with my staff and I through countless meetings to advance housing initiatives and to help shape this new plan. I am truly fortunate to have a council who cares about this issue, to lead a citizenry that is engaged on this issue, and to work with an outstanding, dedicated team at City Hall. Specifically, Rob Gerdes, our Neighborhood Affairs Administrator, deserves much credit.
Thoughtful, comprehensive housing strategies don’t get created on the fly. There are no quick fixes or shortcuts or silver bullets. It’s hard work. It’s a complex challenge, one that is plaguing cities across the nation. The plan we have put together is the result of community feedback, considerable research and much expertise.
Our plan, if not the many details, is simple:
Housing for all, from all.
It’s a 10-year plan that expands existing programs and introduces new solutions.
The plan will begin in 2020, and will be funded through various public and private sources.
We believe the plan will impact approximately 7,000 households, improving life for approximately 19,000 of our current residents, or those aspiring to become residents. Single-income families, retirees, first responders, teachers and nurses are just some of those expected to benefit.
And while the plan mainly focuses on supporting low and moderate-income households, it will also offer solutions for families and middle-income households and above – folks who want to live the St. Pete dream but can’t find the right housing at the right price.
Our aim is to create and preserve 2,400 affordable multi-family units, or double the number of units we have been able to support over the past 10 years. We will support the development of 200 non-subsidized Workforce Density Bonus Units to increase the supply of multi-family units. We will be strategic about ensuring mixed-income residential developments occur on city-owned land, and will support the construction of 300 accessory dwelling units by encouraging developers to include affordable units like carriage houses and garage apartments in their projects.
We will also enable the purchase of 500 single-family homes for households earning 120% of the area median income or below, provide 150 single-family lots for construction of new affordable homes, and enable more than 3,200 single-family homeowners to stay in their homes by remedying code violations through available grants and additional city funding.
In short, our plan will provide an increased supply of dwelling units, assist those who want to have home ownership, and help keep families in their existing homes so they don’t get pushed out by rising prices.
The largest and most impactful piece of the plan will leverage approximately $60 million of City funding for the construction and preservation of these 2,400 affordable multi-family units.
That’s the ‘for all’ piece of the plan.
Here’s where the ‘from all’ comes in:
We will tap into the federal government’s HOME Investment Partnership for $1.5 million. This is a federal funding source that provides money to cities like St. Petersburg through their annual budget process. We will utilize $2.5 million of SHIP, or State Housing Initiative Partnership money, and will make use of existing city-owned land and future acquisitions, valued at approximately $10 million, for the use of housing that’s affordable.
We will also utilize $15 million from the voter-approved Penny for Pinellas, a 1% sales tax that has been funding long-term capital projects in Pinellas County since 1990.
We will allocate $8.5 million of the local taxes collected within the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area to fund housing in the CRA, and take advantage of the Floor Area Ratio Bonus, a fee paid by developers for the right to develop additional square footage on a property.
And we remain open to a linkage fee paid for by developers, pending the results of a study that is currently being conducted. $20 million could be generated from a possible impact fee on new market-rate construction, even when the fee is limited to protect targeted development, such as new office space.
While there is much work to be done to make this plan a reality, we’re also not waiting a second longer.
Over the past year, we have been advancing many initiatives that support the goals in our plan. In addition, we recently sent to the St. Petersburg City Council a proposed amendment to the existing contract to develop the Commerce Park on 22nd Street South.
This is exciting news involving city-owned land.
Last week, Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin, who also serves as our City Administrator, remarked on the importance of our historic ‘Deuces’ and how the progress that unfolds there must be done right, be sustainable, and serve to advance the interests of the community.
In 2014, our administration inherited a long-vacant piece of land with strings attached. We had to either create jobs or pay the federal government more than $2 million. We could also continue to do nothing and wait for the “big one,” a strategy that had failed prior administrations. At the time, the best course of action was to incentivize a development project that would satisfy our job creation requirement while providing the citizens of the South St. Pete CRA with new opportunities, and just some new housing.
Today, given the growing housing crisis, we have decided to not just create jobs – but to emphasize much-needed affordable, workforce, and market-rate housing. Market rate, in particular, is important to me on this site because we should avoid clustering too much affordable and workforce housing in one part of town.
There is much to consider in this amendment, but the overarching message of this course correction should be clear: We hear you, St. Pete.
We will also continue our efforts to ensuring more and more residents have access to more and more resources and opportunity. As Dr. Tomalin said last week, “new developments, whether residences, grocery stores or banks, won’t survive if we don’t focus on the people who live near them. That’s what we’ve been doing. We recognize that talent and aspiration and the drive to succeed has always resided in south St. Pete, but opportunity has not. That’s our job. That’s what we’ve been focused on. And we’re making real, lasting progress.”
Finally, last month, I joined my fellow mayors from around the United States for the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors. The USCM is a nonpartisan organization, and the mayors that attended their most recent conference lead cities with as few as 30,000 residents, and as many as 9 million residents. But we all have one thing in common, and that’s housing challenges.
It is an issue that does not discriminate. If you are a growing and thriving city, like St. Pete, this is a problem you are wrestling with. Because of that, the U.S. Conference of Mayors adopted multiple resolutions last month just on housing alone.
We also know that this is a problem we cannot solve on our own.
We need community partners.
We need our state government to do more and to be better stewards of the affordable housing trust fund.
We need our elected officials in Washington to oppose the elimination of the HOME program and begin to restore program funding by at least $1.75 billion in FY2020.
We need Congress to recognize that a home is the foundation of American life and that housing is critical infrastructure.
Our city government, our entire city – in fact, has not shied away from tackling big problems these past five and a half years.
We’ve not kicked any cans down the road, hoping some other group of people will figure it out.
This has been an era of action.
It’s what’s expected of us.
And while meaningful dialogue will continue on this issue and will be a part of our Vision 2050 endeavor, we must not wait to get moving. If we are to truly be that city of opportunity where the sun shines on all, it will require safe, quality housing that’s affordable for all.
Read the plan at www.stpete.org/affordablehousing