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Community Voices: Seeing Florida’s housing crisis as a social issue

Nick Carey

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Photo by Brandon Griggs.

Welcome to the Catalyst’s Community Voices platform. We’ve curated community leaders and thinkers from all parts of our great city to speak on issues that affect us all. Visit our Community Voices page for more details.

As a community organizer, I have had the opportunity to hear many stories of my neighbors who have had disturbing housing experiences in St. Pete. Their stories can be found almost every day of the week in the local media. They aren’t housing experts, but they know the problem intimately because they live it every day and can tell you that their leaders at the local and state level, in large part, haven’t come forward with a serious plan for affordable housing. 

Last year,  I met Alexa at a City Council Meeting. She shared her story of growing up in St. Pete when segregation was legal and about how she has seen the explosion of growth come to the city at large while never quite making it to her neighborhood in South St. Pete. Now, there is fear that she won’t be able to afford to stay when that growth comes. 

The housing market across Florida, particularly the Tampa Bay region, has produced enormous wealth. However, when evaluating what the market has done, we also have to be honest that the riches it provides have come hand in hand with massive inequality, disproportionately leaving behind our Black and Brown neighbors. It is nearly impossible for lower-income families to afford newly built units at an affordable cost. The fact is that we’re fighting this fight with one hand tied behind our back because we have viewed it almost exclusively through an economic lens. 

Suppose we are to ever truly create a St. Petersburg where “The sun shines on all.” In that case, we need to start looking at housing as a social issue, where it is our responsibility to guarantee housing for every resident. What if we based housing investments not on creating enticing profit margins for developers but on making sure people have a safe and stable, physical space on which they can establish a base for their lives? 

Let’s imagine every person who takes a job located in St. Pete, or has lived in St. Pete for three years or more, or has a direct descendant who lived in the Gas Plant district is guaranteed to pay no more than 30% of their income to rent. What if every new development for housing includes a mixture of public, subsidized, and market-rate units. The city’s land can be used to build a community land trust where residents can buy into the trust and a home within the community. The loss of a job wouldn’t come with the danger of homelessness. Stable and secure housing guaranteed would lower crime rates and improve health outcomes and education for children. 

St. Petersburg is not the only city with housing concerns. Rent prices in South Florida have gone up 36 percent, and across the country, rent increased by 14 percent by the end of 2021. We hope that the City of St. Pete will be courageous enough to look at housing through a different lens and that it will prompt other cities and states to do the same.

Nick Carey is a Faith in Florida organizer. Learn more about housing work in St. Petersburg at www.peoplescouncilstpete.org.

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Bruce Nissen

    February 12, 2022at4:15 pm

    Well said. It bothers me that most discussion I’ve heard about this issue centers on the needs and profit margins of developers and landlords rather than on securing a guarantee of quality housing for every single resident of our city. That’s an indication that priorities can easily get reversed from where they ought to be.

    If we’re honest, we have to be clear that a substantial piece of the housing in St. Pete must be taken OUT of the market. We have a massive “market failure” here. That means, above and beyond all the measures to “incentivize” (fatten the profit margins) of developers we need to have public land trusts and public housing. St. Pete is sorely lacking a sufficient quantity of both, and much of the public investment in resolving the housing crisis must go to both of these.

  2. Avatar

    rose hayes

    February 12, 2022at4:29 pm

    City Council explained the potential for costly litigation if Rent Control is instituted. In addition it only lasts a year and then the fight starts over. We need something solid that will sustain us in the future. A one bedroom apartment rented for as low as $605 in 2019, in 2022 they are $1600 plus.Section 8 residents cannot find a place to stay. Landlords are non renewing their leases so they can raise rent. Most have not added any features, done no painting nor any improvements. Greed is managing the system and it is awful!!!!!!

  3. Avatar

    Jaclyn Swenningsen Elshoff

    February 12, 2022at7:48 pm

    You go Nick!! Helping others is why we are here! Let’s make it right this time! Lets be a leader in this!

    No more profit before people!

    It’s time!

  4. Avatar

    Tom

    February 12, 2022at10:27 pm

    Thousands of affordable homes have been lost when mobile home parks were redeveloped.

    Why did you not include these residents?

  5. Avatar

    Mike

    February 13, 2022at8:27 am

    Not all renters are poor
    Not all land lord’s are rich.
    This issue is affecting everyone.
    The government is in no position to solve this problem.
    No one has a God given right to live here.
    I want to live in Zurich, but guess what? I CANT AFFORD TO.
    As long as outside money pours in, people are going to get squeezed.
    We choose the outside money. Everytime. Deal with it, pay up or move on.

    I’m only trying to tell the truth and not a convenient lie. sorry you have to hear this from me.

  6. Avatar

    Mike

    February 13, 2022at1:24 pm

    @bruce nissen I find it shocking and terrifying that anyone would think –simulataneouly– that the private sector is both evil and inefficient AND the public sector is good and efficient.

    I have no idea where you get these ideas, but I suggest you leave them there.

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