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Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg paints a stark picture of local housing

Megan Holmes

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Rusty Bennett, Collaborative Solutions; Diane Yentel, National Low Income Housing Coalition; Peggy Bailey, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; Fred Karnas, Kresge Foundation /Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg (Photo by Octovio Jones)

To affordably rent a median market rate home in Pinellas County, a minimum wage employee would have to work 148 hours per week. That’s more than 21 hours per day, seven days a week.

That is just one takeaway from the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg’s Pathway to Health Equity Through Housing assessment. The Foundation unveiled the preliminary findings of its assessment Wednesday morning to a diverse audience of housing, nonprofit and for profit professionals, as well as public officials and concerned citizens.

The findings are part of a joint project with Collaborative Solutions, Inc., a national research and training firm based in Birmingham, Ala., which works to impact housing for vulnerable populations.

The Foundation, which focuses on health equity, has chosen housing as one of four priorities of focus over the coming decades. It contends that “housing is a manifestation of, and contributes to the generation of social and economic inequalities.” In July, Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, kicked off the Foundation’s public conversation on housing by speaking on the segregationist housing policies that have dominated the makeup of cities across the country for decades.

“This research into the state of housing in Pinellas County was motivated by an important truth held by this Foundation: if we improve equity in housing, the health of county residents will improve,” said Randall Russell, President and CEO of the Foundation.

Affordable housing is a buzzy topic as of late, as housing shortages plague the country. But what, exactly, does affordable housing really mean? The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines affordable housing as housing where households pay no more than 30 percent of their income toward housing and utility costs. With a median market rate rent of $1,400 per month + utilities, and a minimum wage of $8.25, it’s easy to see how truly mismatched the workforce and the housing stock in Pinellas County have become. In fact, rents in Pinellas County have increased 22 percent over just the last six years, while wage growth has stagnated.

The Foundation considers the assessment a first step in establishing a guide based on where Pinellas County currently sits in regards to housing affordability – and where it needs to go. The Foundation also provided five major strategic recommendations to pursue in the coming years to improve housing: increase collaboration, increase housing for extremely low-income households, preserve existing affordable housing, create data-driven strategies and eliminate housing inequities.

Housing is so important to health equity because it sits at the intersection of so many other issues. People living in poverty, minority populations, those living with chronic disease or disability and those who struggle with mental illness are also those most likely to be at risk of homelessness or unsafe housing. Race and income are major factors that determine one’s access to safe housing and neighborhoods, and in turn access to good schools.

The Foundation will begin convening community leaders around housing in early 2019. Look for more stories on how the Foundation is working to tackle housing over the coming months.

 

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