If St. Petersburg hopes to keep its economic renaissance alive, change will have to come too, according to a proposal by the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce. Forward-looking cities across the country, like St. Pete, are struggling with the increasingly prevalent issue of housing affordability.
Thursday, the St. Pete Chamber released a three-pronged strategy to accelerate change and increase the affordable housing stock in St. Petersburg.
The proposal outlines three major steps to increasing housing supply that is affordable to all – including low-income and workforce housing. The three main initiatives include establishing an Affordable Housing Trust Fund, removing barriers to access to city-owned land for nonprofit developers and updating zoning ordinances to allow for more density, including infill multifamily units and reduced parking requirements throughout St. Petersburg.
“If we don’t solve where our workforce is living, we will stop growing,” said Chamber CEO and president Chris Steinocher. “And if we stop growing, we start declining — we start dying.”
Steinocher believes workforce housing is an economic development issue, one that plays into decisions as to whether business owners can grow or move their businesses to St. Pete. He points to the fact that many employees who work in St. Petersburg cannot afford to live in St. Petersburg as a huge sticking point for companies.
“It’s not unusual for people employed in St. Pete to live in Lakewood Ranch or Seminole Heights in Tampa. They drive to work in St. Pete and since there’s no regional transit system, laborshed is a huge issue,” Steinocher said, referring to the concept that workers in St. Petersburg come from throughout the Tampa Bay area. “Companies are always asking, how are my people going to get to work?”
“We want to create confidence in business owners that there are options. We want communities where firefighters, nurses, and teachers can afford to live in the communities they work,” Steinocher said. “Nobody wants to live in a city where teachers can’t live. That’s part of making a great community.”
The Chamber delivered the findings developed by the its Housing, Land Use, and Development (HLUD) Committee, alongside the Grow Smarter Housing Work Group and other local nonprofit and governmental organizations to St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman and the City Council Wednesday and released the proposal to the public Thursday.
“We’re looking 360 degrees around this issue,” Steinocher told the St. Pete Catalyst. “We know there’s not one magic potion, there are lots of tools in the toolbelt.”
The proposal specifically advocates for the use of incremental tax revenue percentage funding to create and fund an Affordable Housing Trust Fund over linkage fees, a solution previously proposed by Mayor Rick Kriseman. Where linkage fees would impose a fee per square foot of new market rate developments, incremental tax revenue percentage funding would take a “dedicated percentage of incremental tax revenues” and allocate that money to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. According to Steinocher, the City of St. Pete only has around $200,000 in a trust fund now.
According to the proposal, incremental tax revenue percentage funding would generate more revenue long-term, and existing and future developments would share the burden of funding. With linkage fees, new developments would shoulder the burden. The proposal also argues that in the event of a recession, gross property taxes revenues would prove a more viable and resilient funding mechanism than linkage fees from new development.
“We’re looking to find as many tools as possible to create housing stock. We’re concerned that the city is seeing linkage fees as the only tool. It’s not,” Steinocher said. “Linkage fees do not produce a sustainable resource. The housing market needs certainty, not checking the paper to see what development is going in to make sure we’ll get funding that week.”
In developing the proposal, Steinocher says the Chamber looked to cities like Minneapolis and Denver, cities with strong affordable housing trust funds.
“Linkage fees address only the next ones in the door,” explained Steinocher. “But we think everyone benefits from affordable housing, so existing development should pay for it too.”
The Chamber’s proposal also addresses the bureaucracy that nonprofit organizations must navigate to accessing city-owned properties. The proposal calls for amendments to rules and regulations to make the process of obtaining city-owned property less difficult and creating a “streamlined permitting process for expedited development.”
Finally, the proposal squarely addresses zoning and development regulations that give rise to what many planners call the “missing middle” — the middle ground between a single-family home and high density multi-story apartment complexes. The proposal calls for easing of regulations around accessory dwelling units (or mother-in-law suites), increased housing density, small multi-family unit infill in traditionally single-family neighborhoods, and reducing or eliminating parking requirements for smaller developments.
“This is the next phase of St. Pete,” said Steinocher. “We need to think about growth differently, look at the principles of growth differently. Everyone wants St. Pete to stay cool and funky and local, and everybody I’m around is saying the same thing.
“We need to be open to new approaches and changing minds about strategies for growth. We need to be open to innovation.”