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Senior housing update sparks ADU debate

Mark Parker



In June 2022, St. Petersburg implemented zoning changes that allow accessory dwelling units on nearly 70% of city lots. Photo: Cask Construction.

Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) often housed elderly family members in the mid-20th century; however, soaring costs now have many homeowners utilizing the space as short or long-term rentals.

Local elected officials broached the topic during a March 13 Forward Pinellas board meeting. The discussion began with an update on senior housing efforts, as the affordability crisis acutely affects those living on fixed incomes.

In addition, a 2023 study found that St. Petersburg is among the nation’s top 20 cities where retirees most rely on Social Security to pay the bills. Clearwater City Councilmember David Allbritton said his municipality is exploring zoning changes to foster ADU construction.

“I think we’re going to have to go to that, I really do,” Albritton said. “Not only for the older generation but just more … affordable dwelling units. I think it’s a good thing.”

Dunedin Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said her city increased ADU allowances in the late 2000s following the Great Recession. She said homeowners must prove the new resident is a relative.

“And we’ve had very little movement on it,” Bujalski added. She also stressed the importance of including “caveats” that prevent ADUs, also known as garage apartments and carriage houses, from becoming short-term or market-rate rentals.

“It’s unfortunate because it’s not being utilized for what you hope it would be,” Bujalski said. “It has to be very carefully thought through.”

Examples of traditionally styled ADUs. Screengrab, city documents.

Recent social media posts have underscored the growing interest in converting detached units into Airbnb’s. Many homeowners seek to offset soaring mortgage, property tax and insurance rates, which particularly impact seniors, without acting as a full-time landlords.

However, St. Petersburg has strict short-term rental regulations in place. The city allows rentals under 30 days up to three times annually in residential areas.

Bujalski noted that the Airbnb platform did not exist, and housing costs were exponentially lower when Dunedin implemented its ADU program. She said new property owners will now seize an opportunity to earn market rates, while long-term residents are more apt to accommodate returning children of elderly parents.

“Per square foot prices are through the roof,” said County Commissioner Dave Eggers. “If it’s somebody you don’t know, you’ll get that $2,000 a month rent.”

Linda Fisher, principal planner at Forward Pinellas, led the presentation. She said preventing ADUs from becoming short-term rentals is the “number one concern.”

Fisher said the “prevailing advice” is offering something like an impact fee waiver if the homeowner signs a binding contract. Eggers said the problem then becomes enforcement.

Bujalski noted that many municipalities also require neighbors reporting violations to provide identifying information. “There’s just a lot of obligation to it,” she said.

Whit Blanton, executive director of Forward Pinellas, said local governments can reduce impact fees for affordable housing units. However, he said waiving the charges is illegal.

“There are a lot of challenges, and that’s why we are coming together in this countywide effort, so it’s not 25 governments having to navigate these issues independently,” Fisher said. “So we can come together and pull our resources and best practices.”

That is the Advantage Pinellas Housing Action Plan, launched in May 2023. Forward Pinellas oversees the initiative, and Pinellas County and most municipal governments participate.

Bimonthly presentations are part of the program, and Fisher explained seniors’ unique housing challenges. Medical and mobility issues add to the dilemma while they must navigate soaring housing costs like all residents.

She said the local senior population continues increasing as Baby Boomers age, and they need housing “designed to be safe and accessible.” Many seniors rely on nearby family members for care, a benefit of ADUs.

“Residents aged 65 and older are expected to grow by 28% by 2050,” Fisher said. “In Pinellas, that’s a much larger increase than either working-age adults or children.

“By 2050, the percentage of residents who are 80 or older is expected to double, and the senior population faces a lot of economic headwinds.”

A rendering of the Hartford project, which will provide 85 affordable units for seniors and families near the 34th Street North corridor. Image: Blue Sky Communities.

According to a SmartAsset report, St. Petersburg seniors receive $20,682 annually from Social Security. That is nearly 45% of their $46,143 total retirement income.

She noted that many seniors prefer to age in place “as long as possible.” Fisher called independent living provided by ADUs a “step up” from assisted living facilities.

Local governments and affordable developers, led by Blue Sky Communities, are increasing efforts to provide income-based, age-restricted housing opportunities for seniors. Fisher said zoning along major corridors must allow at least 50 units per acre to accommodate a typical senior affordable housing complex.

She said that reflects the demographic’s often smaller household size and decreased need for parking. Fisher stressed the importance of transportation, medical services and shopping access, sometimes provided by a development’s walkable “town square.”

“But it’s difficult to find land-use categories that allow all those uses together at the densities and intensities that are needed to make these projects happen,” she added. Fisher will present a senior housing inventory in the next update.

She will also unveil a communication strategy in May. “We’ll be touching on senior housing needs in each of the four implementation projects we’re working on this year,” Fisher said. “There’s a lot more to come.”



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  1. Avatar


    March 27, 2024at8:42 pm

    City st pete do not enforce air band b cause they r everywhere

  2. Avatar

    Beverly Jung

    March 21, 2024at6:05 pm

    Pinellas forward is in dreamland if they think people will not rent their ADU for full market prices.
    Not everyone is wealthy like board members are. Just saying.

  3. Avatar

    Karen Goodrich

    March 21, 2024at3:37 am

    How much does it cost to install an elevator in an adu if seniors are to rent one?

  4. Avatar

    Janan V Talafer

    March 20, 2024at9:13 pm

    ADUs will most likely become short term rentals not senior or affordable housing. They are extra cash for the homeowner not a solution to a critical housing situation driven by private equity firms buying up the housing market.

  5. Avatar

    S. Rose Smith-Hayes

    March 20, 2024at8:13 pm

    What Senior citizens want to live upstairs????Are you kidding me.

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