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Welch reflects on first 100 days in office, what’s next for the city

Veronica Brezina

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St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch. Photo: kenwelch.com.

Since taking office 100 days ago, St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch has boosted the city’s mission to achieve equitable development and break down barriers to combat the affordable housing crisis. 

“The first 100 days have been enlightening. We confirmed just how much progress can be accomplished when we come together with common goals, unified in purpose, to address the challenges before us,” Welch said Monday on the steps of City Hall, reflecting on the 100-day mark and how he could continue the momentum. 

Welch was sworn in Jan. 6 and became the city’s first Black mayor. He has since set out ambitious goals of tackling issues the city faces by introducing numerous programs while enhancing others. 

Here’s a breakdown of accomplishments the administration has achieved thus far, according to a press release and Welch’s speech: 

On affordable housing 

“The economics of housing is challenging, as investors purchase homes and lots, escalating housing values and prices. That’s great for investors, but it’s contributed to soaring home prices and rapidly rising rents for everyone else,” Welch said. 

How the administration is confronting it: 

  • Down payment assistance for first-time homebuyers: Welch signed off on a policy change that increases the available amount of down payment assistance to first-time homebuyers to $60,000. The city also expanded its loan forgiveness policy for the assistance, allowing full forgiveness to those earning at or below 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI) after living in the home for at least 10 years. For those earning above 80% AMI, full repayment was previously required. Under the new policy, those individuals could qualify for half loan forgiveness.  
  • Homeowner rehabilitation assistance program: Under the previous policy, homeowners in the extremely low-income to moderate-income range could receive up to $45,000 for home repairs and improvements, with up to 50% reimbursement required over 15 years. The new policy increased the funding available to qualifying homeowners to $60,000. The city is now offering full forgiveness of the loan to households earning at or below 80% AMI after 10-years of continued occupancy in the home.
  • South St. Petersburg CRA developer program-land acquisition incentive: The city expanded the amount available to developers constructing affordable single-family homes within the South St. Petersburg CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency). Previously, developers could tap into a direct $10,000 incentive for homes constructed within the CRA targeting buyers at or below 120% AMI. The city added a new reimbursement of up to half of the land acquisition cost to developers, up to $40,000, if the developer sells the new single-family home to a buyer at or below 80% AMI. The city also increased its standard incentive from $10,000 to $15,000, with the existing 120% AMI threshold still in place if the buyer is already a resident renter within the CRA. “The reality is, government purchases take time, and private-sector investors – often making a cash purchase – can simply act more quickly than the government can.  So we took innovative action,” Welch remarked. “We increased the amount of incentives available to developers, but we did so with key stipulations that make additional funds available only if the developer sells those homes to low- or moderate-income individuals and families.” 
  • Emergency rental assistance: The county has agreed to make $18 million from its portion of the American Rescue Plan Act available to St. Pete residents. The deal also includes expanding access to those who reside in motels and other short-term housing who were previously ineligible for assistance.  

Welch also highlighted several affordable housing projects while at the podium, including Delmar 745, a 65-unit affordable housing project in downtown St. Pete that recently opened its doors to residents. Another development noted was SkyWay Lofts, the first-ever affordable housing community that opened in the Skyway Marina District.   

Welch also stated that St. Petersburg has become the first city in the state to utilize a new process that allows transforming industrially zoned property into affordable housing.

On the redevelopment of Tropicana Field and the future of the Rays 

  • Redevelopment of Tropicana Field: Earlier this month, Welch and city staff sent a list of 15 questions to two prospective Tropicana Field site developers — Midtown Development and Sugar Hill Community Partners. The additional questions seek to provide further clarity on how plans can adapt to changes that have occurred since the proposals were first developed, including new supply chain challenges and labor shortages resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, and new projections for office space as more and more businesses have adopted work-from-home and hybrid office models. The questions also address the developers’ knowledge of the city’s structural racism study and asked for a more definite answer on how the developers plan to honor the Gas Plant community, which was displaced when the stadium was first constructed. “The Trop site represents our most valuable and storied development opportunity in generations,” Welch said. “As you know, I was a child of the Gas Plant community, and this is not only a vital decision for the future of our city but also a unique opportunity to finally fulfill the promises of equitable development made to the Gas Plant community.” Welch’s selection for the Tropicana Field master developer will be made by June 30. 
  • Future of the Rays: Since my election, I’ve focused on getting our St. Pete and Pinellas team together – my administration, the city council, our county commission partners and the Rays. We continue to meet with our partners, and we have renewed our [contract with] facilities consultant, Inner Circle,” Welch said. “Our team is together, and we are making progress on developing the best plan for the new Rays stadium. I’m excited.” 

On equity and structural racism

“A city-commissioned structural racism study last year uncovered what many already knew — Black residents disproportionately face increased mortality rates fueled by reduced access to healthy food, health care, affordable housing and stable job opportunities,” Welch said.  “This is a national problem, reflected in many cities. I believe that St. Petersburg can lead the way forward by focusing on inclusive progress. Understanding our history, having honest conversations, and charting a path forward based on equitable economic development.”

Welch said his administration is planning to create a new equity office within the city government, a key recommendation from the study and one that will most affect the city’s ability to address disparities and drive the fundamental principle of equity throughout the organization. 

Welch added the city is tapping into American Rescue Plan funds to create a series of community one-stop-shops to provide trauma-informed support services, including access to case managers and therapists.

The city will leverage the dollars to provide immediate crisis payments to cover rent, utilities, food, childcare and health care, as well as to build capacity within nonprofit organizations that provide direct support to residents in need.  

The funding would also be used to create a sustainable network of accessible healthy foods by working with small convenience stores to make healthy food available in certain communities.

Welch covered additional topics during his full speech, which can be viewed here.  

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Rose Hayes

    April 18, 2022at3:08 pm

    No Luxury Housing in the’ Trop ‘Development, please

  2. Avatar

    Jonathan Leri

    April 18, 2022at9:16 pm

    Don’t let the Trop just sit there for another five years with surface parking.

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