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Prioritize people over politics and profit

Corey Givens Jr.



Photo by Tierra Mallorca/Unsplash.

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.

It’s not a new issue, but the lack of affordable housing throughout the nation has become worse. Since the beginning of Covid-19 in 2020, housing costs have been rising dramatically. Since then, prices have increased two years in a row, reaching their most recent peak in Quarter 1 of 2023 at almost $400,000.

Rent might be difficult to afford in the current real estate market. That holds true even more so for a city like St. Petersburg. There are several options for dealing with these issues, including increasing the density restrictions, extending Section 8 housing, streamlining the mortgage application process and many more. The difficulty, however, is that these issues aren’t caused by unintentional zoning errors or the waste of public funds; rather, they are caused by the same individuals who stand to profit from rising rents: Developers and the politicians they can support.

The difficulty in finding housing that is affordable or attainable is not by chance. Building upscale condos downtown is far more profitable for real estate developers. The last thing these companies want to do is build affordable housing, but they’re ready to attend meetings and participate in backroom negotiations to stop that from occurring, even if the neighborhood needs more of it. The only way to stop them from acting in this way is to actively participate in local government affairs and put pressure on them to change.

As a lifelong resident of Pinellas County, it is heartbreaking to witness the housing crisis that plagues our beloved community. Families are forced to choose between paying for housing, healthcare and food due to the acute scarcity of affordable housing options. I can speak from personal experience when I say that no one should have to lead a life like this, since I spent most of my youth in comparable conditions. Now is the moment to act to confront this catastrophe.

Affordable housing has several advantages. When a family has access to secure and inexpensive housing, they can concentrate on other crucial areas of their lives, such healthcare and education. Additionally, they are more inclined to participate in and support the development of their local community.

Affordable housing may also aid in lowering poverty, homelessness and crime in our neighborhoods. We can assist families in getting back on their feet and ending the cycle of poverty by offering stable housing choices. This could benefit our entire community and contribute to the betterment of everyone’s quality of life. However, this view might not be shared by developers who are simply concerned with maximizing their income and tax savings.

The housing crisis is an ongoing issue. There are no band-aid solutions or quick fixes. Due to the high cost of land, labor and construction, it is difficult for developers to make projects financially viable in this area. It is difficult for companies that are unable to hire or retain staff because of housing concerns. Families that must deal with lengthy commutes and time spent away from their loved ones, friends, and neighbors also find it difficult.

The conversation must go on, but it must be a regional dialogue. This is not a problem that any one elected official or organization can resolve on their own. We must unite and prioritize people over politics.

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    Steve D

    May 22, 2023at9:14 pm

    Any honest developer will tell you that the #1 reason why housing is unaffordable is ridiculous government regulation. Between onerous zoning, code compliance, energy mandates, etc., ad nauseam, ad nauseam…these things add thousands and thousands of dollars onto the purchase prices or rents. We’re one of the few countries in the world which punishes creative people financially for building homes for people.

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    May 23, 2023at12:17 pm

    ^ deregulation is NOT the answer. We don’t have ENOUGH regulation. That’s a BS excuse for the high cost of housing. GREED is the cause….

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    Rick Kaczmarek

    May 23, 2023at3:00 pm

    An immature, incorrect and inappropriate response.

    Greed is not the cause.

    The desire to add affordable housing units to our communities is sound, as is the desire to continue to add housing units for residents at all income points. The fake narrative of poor languishing because of the rich is belied by actual facts.

    The author here proposes more dialogue. That’s needed and is a great first step. But any attempts to paint concern for the financially poorest amongst us counter to concern for other groups is a losing strategy.

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    Jack B

    May 24, 2023at10:21 am

    “There are no band-aid solutions or quick fixes. Due to the high cost of land, labor and construction, it is difficult for developers to make projects financially viable in this area.”

    The socialist-leaning mayor and city council want something for nothing. They love they avalanche of increased property taxes collected from all the new, high-cost developments they approved for construction while pandering to those who cannot afford to live in these new homes and apartments.

    We simply cannot have it both ways, St. Petersburg is a finite entity, there is no more space available. Supply and demand are simple economic factors that cannot be changed because politicians want to have it both ways. What else is new? San Francisco and New York City are similarly constrained, they have a finite land area and as demand increases (look at cost/price increases in those cities over the last ten years), supply remains the same so costs increase way beyond “affordable.” Yes, decades-old rent control ordinances have allowed some people to stay in properties at lower costs but there are downsides to consider. We cannot have new development at affordable (whatever that means) prices in this environment. Developers do not invest in unprofitable ventures.

    The solution in many areas has been to move to more affordable areas, Florida and specifically Pinellas County and St. Petersburg. Supply and demand forces still apply and the costs have increased dramatically in the last five years. Many long term residents have sold their properties and moved to outlying areas where costs are much more reasonable – because they can. We have an older population of retired people who can live more comfortably in a small town without the hassles of traffic, higher prices of almost everything and the influx of younger, more affluent residents who find our housing much more affordable than the big cities in the Northeast and West Coast areas.

    It is what it is and that is all there is. Politicians in San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, NYC and other similar cities have not turned the tide. Their liberal policies and attempts to have it both ways have resulted in higher crime rates and migration of higher-income taxpayers to more acceptable states (Florida, Texas, Denver, etc.). Ask anyone if they would like to move to those cities and what will you hear?

    We have what people want and we have to adjust accordingly. Our politicians want the influx of higher property values and are trying to satisfy the pleas for affordable housing with legislation. It just will not work. They cannot have it both ways.

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    Judy Too

    May 24, 2023at10:39 am

    Greed is the problem? How about inflation? Supply and demand? You cannot legislate/regulate affordable housing. Rent control simply drives developers away. Existing properties increase in price even more, long time residents sell their homes and move to more affordable areas. They don’t need the fancy tax-supported buses, traffic jams and high costs of everything from hamburgers to beach parking.

    Speaking of greed, why do you think the municipalities are approving all these high-priced developments? Increasing parking costs on the beaches? They say they want affordable housing while jacking up costs of everything including property taxes, parking, utilities, permits, and of course their taxes and fees on non-owned utilities (telephone, cable, electric, etc.).

    Small landlords who bought affordable single-family homes to rent for extra income during their retirement years cannot keep up with all their costs, they raise rents to try to just break even and are accused of being greedy! They were the original providers of affordable housing and they end up selling out because of the huge increases in taxes and insurance. Remember, rental properties do not have the “save our homes” cap on property taxes and higher insurance costs affect everyone.

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    Cy Ense

    May 24, 2023at11:52 am

    Any conversation surrounding affordable housing should start with the oppressive property taxes assessed by city and county governments.

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    S. Rose Smith-Hayes

    May 25, 2023at7:26 pm

    I see no end to the housing crisis. It just gets worse. Soon all the restaurants will be self serve, there will be cooks and no servers. Walmart and similar stores, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Aldi, Sav A Lot and others will close. Why? because folk that work at those stores and the malls will no longer be able to afford afford to live here on mediocre salaries. A 3 bedroom house on my street has 4 cars in the driveway. All residents are adults, no children. Rent is about $2300 to $2500 a month.

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