As part of continued efforts to mitigate the housing crisis, St. Petersburg is using funding earmarked for other programs to increase its stock of affordable units and revitalize existing properties.
During Thursday’s meeting, city council members unanimously approved amending the fiscal year 2022 project plan for the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) to reallocate $4,640,158 in funding. The money stems from three categories: workforce, education and job readiness; business and commercial development; and communications, evaluation and operations programs. It will now significantly increase the housing and neighborhood revitalization budget.
The new allocation will also bolster the developer incentive program, which encompasses the affordable housing redevelopment loan program and the affordable residential property improvement grant. Councilmember Lisset Hanewicz said the funding transfer would help offset the prohibitive cost of new construction.
“I mean, the Fairfield Apartments alone, those 264 units – that’s a $53 million investment,” said Hanewicz. “And so, I really commend everyone for trying to do as much as they can to get these units out under the environment we’re in.”
While the reallocation results in a $4.6 million decrease in funding for the aforementioned initiatives, the amended budget still includes $5.3 million for most of those programs.
Rick Smith, economic development manager, said that several projects that would create or renovate over 440 units generated demand for the budget amendment. According to background documents, the city administration negotiated with developers who expressed a need for an additional $5.53 million in funding after budget approval.
Following the reallocations, the city will provide $2.28 million for the construction of 264 units for the Fairfield Apartments at 3300 Fairfield Ave S. The second-costliest expenditure is $1.42 million to renovate Citrus Grove’s 84 units at 731 15th St. S.
Out of all projects receiving funding through the South St. Pete CRA incentive program, Smith said about 77% are for those making at or below 80% of the area median income.
The increased incentives for affordable housing projects come at the expense of several other noteworthy initiatives. Smith said the city “is excited to tap the brakes” on two new St. Pete Youth Farm managerial positions after no one responded to application requests. The $180,000 budgeted for the role will now go into the housing fund.
Smith also relayed the city would strike two childcare programs totaling $550,000 from this year’s budget, but replace that with another funding source.
“We do intend to bring all of these programs for next year in the budget,” explained Smith. “We’re not going to be eliminating any programs – it’s just a matter of the timing of the expenditure.”
Councilmember Brandi Gabbard commended the administration for its hybrid approach to funding new construction and rehabilitation projects. According to her rough estimate, the city will help renovate 35% of the units receiving the reallocated funding.
Gabbard noted she has been “a bit of a thorn in the side” of administration on matters relating to the Youth Farm but was still in support of reallocating those funds – temporarily.
“This is a program that I am very protective of, as you know,” said Gabbard. “And I just wanted to really commend administration for putting the pause on the Youth Farm curriculum manager and the farm manager. I think that was the right move.”
She relayed her delight that the city is moving forward with site preparation and improving operations at the Youth Farm and believes waiting until that is complete to fill the positions is the right course of action.
Council Chair Gina Driscoll also expressed her appreciation for the nimbleness in which the administration can shift money to where it is most needed. She added that just because the city reduces or eliminates a program’s funding does not negate its importance.
“It just means we have to funnel things to where they make the most sense at this time,” said Driscoll. “And so, when we look at the need for childcare and the development of those businesses, that’s something that is hard to hit the pause button on.”