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Demands for affordable housing top talks at St. Petersburg city budget open house

Margie Manning

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Photo credit: City of St. Petersburg Flickr

The challenge of finding housing that’s affordable for everyone in a city that’s adding about 2,500 new residents every year was a top concern during a discussion on the city of St. Petersburg’s spending plans for the next fiscal year.

“I see the growth around us. It’s going to squeeze us. So how do we grow? Why can’t a person in my community see the growth?” asked Alexa Manning, one of 23 people who spoke during a budget open house Monday night.

It was the first opportunity for public input on the proposed $303 million city budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Several speakers asked for more money for the St. Petersburg Police CALL [Community Assistance and Life Liaison] program in which social service workers respond to non-criminal, non-violent calls for service. There were some calls to “defund the police,” while other speakers focused on money for mental health programs, workforce development, early childhood education and pedestrian safety.

Several people used the open house opportunity to ask for public hearings on the $47 million that the city is expected to receive from the American Rescue Plan, a federal coronavirus relief package.

“This money offers us an historic opportunity to inject desperately needed resources into our most vulnerable and traumatized communities, but it also offers us something else, less tangible but no less important. It gives us the unique opportunity to revitalize our local democracy and recognize our residents as the only experts in what is needed in their communities,” said Aaron Dietrich, a representative of SEIU Florida Public Services Union. “Please give the people a real voice in how this money will be spent.”

Housing and jobs

Nothing in the budget draft is set in stone at this point, said Mayor Rick Kriseman. He will submit a final budget plan to the City Council on or before July 15, with additional public hearings on Sept. 16 and Sept. 30, before the plan is adopted.

The budget proposal calls for continued funding for Kriseman’s “For All From All” housing affordability plan, including $600,000 in FY 22 for the housing capital improvement fund and more than $6 million over five years from Penny for Pinellas sales tax funding to buy land for affordable housing.

Alexa Manning, speaking at the St. Petersburg budget open house on May 17

Manning asked that the information about how to access affordable housing initiatives be shared more widely.

“In my community we can’t buy anything because we don’t qualify for a lot, no matter what we do. We can spend 30 years on a job. We go to buy a house, we go to our lenders and just like everything else, you have to be at a certain level to qualify,” Manning said. “How do we get the information to my community as far as housing? How do they get to buy a home? How do they get to be part of this St. Pete when we see it grow around us and we get nothing out of it? All we see is everyone else growing.”

Fighting for affordability is critical, said Council member Darden Rice. She was one of four of the seven City Council members who were on site for the open house, which also was broadcast on StPeteTV.

“We are starting to learn that as we embrace equity we will be a stronger city. We will be stronger than we even know,” said Rice, who is a candidate for mayor to succeed Kriseman, who is term limited.

The flip side of affordability is creating more good-paying jobs, Rice said, and Kriseman agreed.

“I look at the Tropicana Field site as an example of a real opportunity sitting in front of us,” Kriseman said. He is expected to choose a master developer for the Trop site project later this year, despite a call from some to let the next mayor select the developer.

Kriseman said the project would create 2,000 to 5,000 construction jobs and 15,000 to 20,000 permanent jobs, while also making use of the 80-acre site.

“We have limited land so we have to use every piece of land we have and we have to look for opportunities to create housing that’s affordable,” Kriseman said. “There are going to be thousands of units built on that site and it gives us the opportunity to create thousands of units of housing that’s affordable . The sooner we do it, the sooner it becomes available to the public and on the market, the sooner we redevelop, the sooner jobs get created.”

Housing proposals

Growth and development in St. Petersburg will be a challenge for years to come, said Council Chairman Ed Montanari.

“Florida is the second-fastest growing state in the United States. We’re growing at about 1,000 people a day. That translates to about 2,500 to 2,700 people a year moving to St. Petersburg,” he said. “Our city does not have a lot of vacant land. That’s why you see so much vertical development in St. Petersburg. Our city needs to continue to grow, but as Council member Rice stated, we need to balance the growth with protecting our quality of life.”

Council member Gina Driscoll said changes that allow for higher density – or more dwelling units per acre — could address some of the issues.

“I’m not talking about high-rises. I’m talking about being able to build a duplex in Campbell Park where right now you can only build a single-family home, so that builder is going to build a home that he can sell for as much as possible, whereas if you do a duplex, that’s going to end up being a little cheaper and you’ve got two families that can afford to live there, and the developer might make a little more money and that’s OK. That’s how the private sector can work with our communities to create more affordable housing,” Driscoll said.

The city currently provides subsidies of up to $60,000 for developers who build affordable housing, but those homes still are in the $200,000-plus range, said Council member Robert Blackmon. He suggested the city instead use the money that would go for subsidies to buy older existing properties, renovate them and either give them away to residents or sell them with a no-interest mortgage.

For more details on the city budget and how to provide public input click here.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Cynthia Adans

    May 18, 2021at5:29 pm

    We need affordable housing for section 8 for seniors
    On the south side please don’t forget about the seniors

  2. Avatar

    Brad Banks

    May 18, 2021at6:19 pm

    “Give them away…” !!! ? So welfare, food stamps, child assistance, free down payment on a new house for low income families, low or no interest loans for low income families, and loan write offs after so many years living in the house, and of course now reparations… On top of all that now free houses?

    Imagine if all that money was spent on making sure everyone who wanted a job had a job! (And those who don’t want to work lose ALL government assistance). And use the rest of the funds to make sure that all government institutions and private lending institutions are color blind race blind gender blind etc.

    And then let’s eradicate all financial political corruption… Oh wait I guess that’s like asking for world peace. Oh well it doesn’t hurt to dream!

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