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St. Pete residents to ‘fight back’ over housing crisis, soaring rent

Mark Parker

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Residents from across St. Peter gathered at the Manhattan Casino for an emergency meeting over the soaring cost of rent in St. Petersburg. Photos courtesy of Aaron Dietrich.

Residents from across St. Petersburg gathered at the historic Manhattan Casino Thursday night to discuss what actions to take in the fight against soaring rent prices and a lack of affordable housing in the area.

Including those who joined the forum virtually, almost 200 concerned citizens participated in the emergency meeting hosted by the St. Pete People’s Council. Over 150 responded to a corresponding survey. The survey asked people what measures will best pressure politicians into immediate action to solve the affordable housing crisis. A large portion of the meeting, both in-person and virtually, was dedicated to separate breakout groups led by a facilitator.

Those breakout groups allowed residents to share how the crisis is personally affecting them and come to a consensus on the top-three actions they believe will have the most impact on pressuring local officials into action.

Aaron Dietrich, event organizer and communications coordinator for the SEIU Florida Public Services Union, said the meeting was a continuation of a conversation that began earlier this year and became more serious last month. Dietrich said attendees at the October meeting voted on if they felt the issue was an emergency, and the consensus was a resounding “yes.”

“So, this meeting last night was all about how do we come together as a community to put pressure on city leaders to respond, with the understanding that we’re not housing experts,” Dietrich explained Friday. “We’re just people dealing with an existential crisis of whether we can hang on in this city.

“It’s really a conversation on how we fight back.”

According to WFTS, rent prices have increased by 46% in the last five years. The pandemic has exacerbated the problem for area residents, as many have lost their jobs or had their hours reduced.

Following October’s engagement, Dietrich and his community partners reached out to every member of the St. Petersburg City Council, along with Mayor Rick Kriseman, to discuss the crisis and mitigation strategies. Councilmember Amy Foster was the only person to meet with the People’s Council thus far, and Councilmembers Darden Rice and Deborah Figgs-Sanders have scheduled meetings in the coming weeks. The others, according to the People’s Council, have not responded.

Dietrich presented Foster with a draft resolution based on a proposal introduced in Orange County. The People’s Council wants landlords to give tenants substantially more notice before raising rental costs, along with a cap on rent increases. While Florida has a law against pricing controls, a ballot referendum offers a potential solution. Dietrich said Foster has been receptive to the resolution and has agreed to work it through the city’s legal department and introduce it to city council.

“There’s plenty of pain and plenty of policy solutions,” said Dietrich in earnest. “We’re just not seeing the political will to deal with this crisis.”

At the conclusion of Thursday’s meeting, those in attendance came to a consensus on what actions to take to increase that political will in order of escalation. The first step is to pack the city council chambers, issue a public declaration and share the personal horror stories recited during the emergency meeting. The next step will be a well-organized mass assembly and demonstration.

Concerned citizens separated into breakout groups to rank what actions they should take to pressure local officials into addressing the crisis.

If the first two actions fail to bring local officials to the bargaining table, the final proposal is to occupy the area outside of city hall or Tropicana Field. Dietrich said the formation of a tent city harkens back to the 1990s when St. Pete made national news regarding its homeless issue.

“I think that was a real testament of the people who have had a history in the city and recall how much attention that brought,” said Dietrich. “I think there’s a real kind of beautiful, though tragic, historic legacy to where that idea came from.

“I think it was really cool that the community responded with something that we couldn’t have come up with on our own.”

Dietrich said the community plans to organize at city hall on Dec. 16 at 5 p.m., “and let them know what’s going on in our lives.” Another meeting will directly follow to discuss the official response.

Dietrich believes there is nothing more integral to the health and security of a community than housing. He wants elected officials to know their responsibility and obligations are to the people that comprise St. Petersburg, not to ensure private profit for developers. Dietrich is emphatic that so-called housing experts should not be deciding what is best for residents of the city, but “the people going through this are really the experts we need to be listening to.”

“And they need to be the ones that are defining what’s affordable so that they can live and prosper in this city,” added Dietrich.

Dietrich also pointed out that this is not an “us versus them” approach. The People’s Council and its supporters have no problem with wealthy and affluent individuals flocking to the city, and Dietrich called the ongoing migration “a great thing to see.” However, he said it should not come at the expense of the existing community that has helped to make the city attractive in the first place.

Dietrich also takes issue with people who think that rent control, affordable housing and inclusionary zoning are radical ideas.

“Those are just fancy words for saying make a St. Pete for everybody,” explained Dietrich. “And that’s not radical at all.”

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15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Georgia Earp

    November 13, 2021at11:58 am

    Glad to hear about this coalition. It seems like most of the new residences built in the City are for the 1% and 5%. Something needs to change. I’m grateful that a priority of the new Mayor and council members is affordable housing.

  2. Avatar

    Terri

    November 13, 2021at1:08 pm

    I am also glad to hear about this coalition. This city is riddled with crime and overpriced housing. New leadership is certainly needed. Priorities should reflect the needs of the current residents!

  3. Avatar

    Jane Doe

    November 13, 2021at4:33 pm

    Very good to see this. I have recently relocated for work from California. We are leasing in Old Northeast and the owner of our home increased the lease by 20% in 2020 upon signing our lease from the prior tenant and has just notified us that she intends to increase an additional 25% in the upcoming year (there no comps to support such an increase). Someone needs to apply pressure to politicians and these residential opportunists or we will have another California housing crisis impacting hard working Americans trying to support their families and put their children through college.

  4. Avatar

    James Donelon

    November 13, 2021at7:32 pm

    The st Petersburg housing Authority has been a total failure in supplying affordable housing

  5. Avatar

    David Rumpel

    November 13, 2021at10:58 pm

    I work for a an affordable housing property and we are full with no available units for posibbly months. I recieve pleading calls and visits of people that their rent has gone up $400 and given 30 days to vacate is just inhumane.

  6. Avatar

    Karen Kirkpatrick

    November 14, 2021at4:25 am

    I have been without permanent housing for 18 months. I am currently paying $490.00 a week to live in a hotel. I am on Social Security and working part-time. It takes both checks entirely plus donating plasma eight times a month in which I earn an additional $480 to hand over. The so-called “leaders” of the city sold out the city to the highest bidding developers for the past eight years. This was a fire-storm in the making. All housing on the web sites they deem as affordable have waitlists of over a year. This has destroyed my life. I am praying the new mayor will balance the scales for us who are suffering. Otherwise, people earning less than 36k a year will have to leave the city and even the county. Who will flip their burgers, cut their hair and watch their kids?

  7. Avatar

    Enuf Isenough

    November 14, 2021at8:43 am

    What makes Dietrich think anyone “owes” anyone “affordable” housing? “Fight back”? Really? Against who? People who invest their savings and take risks in order to provide housing and make a profit? Oh yes. I forgot, I’m the minds of Dietrichs, capitalism is bad. Handouts are preferred.

    Do we really want a City dotted and immersed in multi story affordable housing projects?

    Not everyone gets to live in Beverly Hills. Or St. Pete for that matter. Can’t afford it? Move somewhere where you can afford it.

    St. Pete leadership has been OVERLY aggressive in creating “affordable housing”. Recently forcing a multi family housing project down the throats of residents in a single family neighborhood.

    The commissioner who sold out his constituents coincidently LOST his bid for Mayor. Hard working people who have sacrificed, saved, invested and risked their capital aren’t going to continue to put up with this. They don’t OWE YOU a damn thing.

  8. Avatar

    Laurie Ryan

    November 14, 2021at9:34 am

    This is extremely overdue and is a problem not only in St Pete but Largo Dunedin Palm Harbor Seminole and all counties in Central Florida where the landlords are bumping up the rent by 56 $700 on renewal it’s ridiculous a single parent working off of one income cannot afford this and there are a lot of us out here we work in schools hospitals nursing homes hotels restaurants and stores if all of the workers have to move out of the county and out of the state because they can’t afford to live here the rich people that are left will have no workers to staff all of these areas is that what it’s going to take before people wake up and realize that they need to have a fordable housing for people that live and work here that are only able to produce middle-class income with their jobs the other problem is that Florida is at the bottom of the barrel as far as salaries they want to charge rent that reflect New York or La pricing but without a a salary that reflects the cost of living in the area most people aren’t going to be able to do that so it’s obvious they’re pandering to all the rich people moving into the area

  9. Avatar

    Nick M

    November 14, 2021at9:53 am

    It’s easy to blame landlords isn’t it? Ask yourself this – How are landlords supposed to pay for massive increases in property taxes and insurance? These costs inevitably have to be passed on to tenants. I just bought several properties and upon closing, the real estate taxes tripled (not a typo) and insurance increased 40%.

  10. Avatar

    Rose Hayes

    November 14, 2021at3:47 pm

    Wages have Not kept up with the cost of living. Landlords will listen when their buildings are empty because no one can afford to live there. In 2019 a one bedroom apartment was around $650. Today a one bedroom room apartment is $1600 in St. Pete and $1400 in Clearwater. What happened??????

  11. Avatar

    Chad T

    November 14, 2021at11:09 pm

    I understand people think if they protest and scream and yell and tell their horror story that the city can waive a magic wand and make this disappear, but this is not the evil rich or greed by landlords, but simply the science of supply and demand. People are fleeing the states that locked down for many months for Covid to have a normal life. People are fleeing the high taxes and horrible conditions in other states. Some people just like the weather better! The bottom line is you can’t increase the amount of people looking for a place to live by a huge margin in a short time and prices NOT go up. Add in the fact that St Pete is fully urban and there is nowhere to go but up, and it makes it even harder for the number of units to catch up to the demand. When people go to sell a house should they not take the high bids above asking? Would you turn down extra money for your home if someone offered? It’s the same for landlords. I’ve had people from out of state offer a year in advance for more than my asking rate to try to get a place! You want prices to go down? Make New York a better place to live or ruin Florida like how many other states have ruined their states! That year long lock down in states like New York and New Jersey drove hundreds of thousands to Florida for the freedom to live normally and work. Can you really blame them?

  12. Avatar

    Janice Robillard

    November 15, 2021at7:25 am

    It’s not anyone’s responsibility to provide housing where you want it.You live where you can afford to live.That would be like me moving to Beverly Hills Calf. and expecting housing.And yes people who can pay those prices are also paying high taxes etc.I don’t think people in housing contribute

  13. Avatar

    Janice Robillard

    November 15, 2021at12:33 pm

    And how will more affordable housing help high crime?People live where they can afford to live.Those people pay high taxes and are invested.

  14. Avatar

    M

    November 17, 2021at7:07 am

    St Petersburg has historically been under valued. This is one of the most desirable areas of the country and prices are starting to reflect that because people now have more choice in where and how they live.

    This celebrated movement needs to stop begging the government to steal on their behalf. Not one homeowner wants price adjusted housing next to their home. Every single thing you hand to one person is taken from another. We should not be held hostage by renters with unrealistic expectations on what they have and what is expected of them.

  15. Avatar

    Carl Hebinck

    December 21, 2021at5:51 pm

    I hope to build a 3-house model center of attractive affordable homes in So. St. Petersburg early next year with a more energy-efficient technology. If I get the funding it’ll become a reality. If the City and citizens like the technology and prices then maybe we can place these houses on existing properties which have room for an ADU [Accessory Dwelling Unit]. If it succeeds, perhaps it will become a model to alleviate the crisis of affordable housing. The City will gain from more taxes and no extra infrastructure costs, the Rentor with extra income, and the Rentee with an energy-saving and lower rental cost house. And our workforce people will be closer to where they can serve the community, thus reducing commuting costs and extra pollution. And by the way: we plan to build it all with Women Veterans–who will inherit the business.

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