As the region continues to feel the effects of the housing crisis, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council (TBRPC) and its community partners are adopting leadership strategies to ensure affordable housing is also sustainable and resilient.
The TBRPC, in collaboration with the Florida Housing Coalition, Forward Pinellas and The Urban Land Institute Tampa Bay, hosted the Resilience and Energy Assessment of Communities and Housing (REACH) conference May 6 in St. Petersburg. The conference, held at the Hilton St. Petersburg Carillon Park, focused on proactively determining new strategies and approaches to ensure new housing construction is affordable and resilient to increasing flood risks and a changing climate.
St. Petersburg City Councilmember Brandi Gabbard, chair of the TBRPC, told the Catalyst that the REACH conference highlighted how affordable housing and environmental sustainability are intrinsically intertwined.
“We no longer get to deal with resiliency or affordable housing in individual silos,” said Gabbard. “They have to come together, and that was really the focus of the REACH conference.”
Climate change and sea-level rise present an incredible additional layer of challenges to the housing situation, said Gabbard. Especially in St. Petersburg, where much of the city exists within a coastal high hazard zone.
She also noted that climate change means more than just rising waters – it also leads to conditions like extreme heat and other problems that pose an even greater risk to vulnerable populations. Dealing with those challenges and the cost of mitigation efforts, she said, exacerbates the affordable housing crisis.
“We know when a major storm comes through or a major natural disaster, that our low-income communities are hit the hardest,” said Gabbard. “So, making sure we are building our housing to be more resilient and more sustainable … into the future will help our communities be able to better protect themselves.”
In addition to topics such as reducing energy costs through efficiency, an update on the Pinellas Countywide Housing Compact and new information released in partnership with the University of Florida identifying area flooding “hotspots,” a key part of the conference was the unveiling of the Keep Safe Florida program for property owners and managers.
Enterprise Community Partners, together with officials from Miami, Orlando and Tampa Bay, recently announced the official launch of the Keep Safe Florida program throughout the three metro areas. Enterprise is a national nonprofit whose mission is to provide safe and affordable housing through community development organizations, investments and advancing housing policy initiatives at all levels of government.
According to its website, Enterprise invested $54 billion and created 873,000 homes across all 50 states and Puerto Rico since 1982. Keep Safe Florida launched as a pilot program last year in Miami, and 45 owners and operators of multifamily affordable housing developments have already taken advantage of the free property assessments and resilience resources it provides.
Enterprise plans to support at least 50 affordable housing properties in each metro area through the first year. The program provides easily accessible tools to assess a development’s vulnerability to climate-related events, specialized training and assistance to develop action plans and implement assessment recommendations. It also provides a funding resource guide to help implement resilience strategies.
“I think it (Keep Safe Florida) will help a great deal,” said Gabbard. “Especially as more and more of our community finds itself in these vulnerable geographic locations.
“We are now going to be able to offer tools to developers or owners and operators of affordable housing developments that they did not have access to before.”
Gabbard noted a housing resilience challenge unique to St. Petersburg – where most areas outside of the coastal high hazard zone historically consist of the peninsula’s low-income communities.
She explained that if tools are not available to help people build more responsibly inside the hazard zones, they automatically turn to higher land away from the coast, making it more desirable and expensive. She said that could lead to dislocation and gentrification of those neighborhoods.
“Back in 2020, the City of St. Petersburg did some pretty groundbreaking work within our coastal high hazard zone as it pertains to our code that would increase the building standards for multifamily developments,” said Gabbar. “And that was really a move to try and make sure we were making the best use of the land that we have while continuing to advocate and push and require builders to have higher safety standards to keep residents safer.
“And so, that takes a little bit of pressure off those areas outside of the coastal high hazard – but we have a long way to go.”
The Keep Safe Florida website is online, and local developers, owners and operators now have more tools to ensure affordable housing is also environmentally resilient. Gabbard said the application process is opening in the coming weeks, and organizers are identifying the most vulnerable properties that need immediate assistance. The Truist Financial Corporation supports the program through its charitable fund, administered by the Winston-Salem Foundation.
For more information on Keep Safe Florida, visit the website here.