In the fall of 1987, I bought my first house in St. Petersburg for $39,000. Constructed in 1959 at the height of St. Pete’s post-war building boom, the small, two-bedroom, one-bath house was well-built and in good condition. It was a fine first home for a young couple with a baby, and the house cost exactly one and a half times my salary as a newly licensed architect.
Unfortunately, the young architects on my staff today don’t enjoy the same advantages I did. If they want to buy a similar house now, the price is three to four times their annual salary. A generation ago, St. Petersburg was a relatively inexpensive place to live. That is no longer true.
If we wait another generation before seriously addressing this issue it will be too late. We need to work now to implement all reasonable and effective strategies to deliver more affordable housing for rent and for sale in St. Pete. Unfortunately, there is no single policy that will solve this problem. However, consensus across the country is that the best way to keep housing prices affordable for average families is to build enough new homes each year to match population and job growth within the metropolitan area – in other words, helping supply keep up with demand.
Although there has been a surge of residential construction in downtown and along a few major corridors outside downtown, the geographic extent of these areas is too small to adequately address the city’s need. And in any event, the expensive high-rise condominiums and large apartment blocks that make sense downtown are totally inappropriate in most other neighborhoods.
The St. Petersburg City Council has approved a new zoning category called Neighborhood Traditional Multi-family-1 (NTM-1), which allows up to four residences to be built on existing single-family lots. This isn’t a new idea; some of St. Pete’s oldest and most popular neighborhoods, such as Old Northeast, Old Southeast, and Kenwood, include duplexes, garage apartments, and small townhomes. Using those areas as inspiration, NTM-1 would extend such development to our other neighborhoods, allowing for increased density without altering their character.
The city has not yet implemented NTM-1. The administration has yet to decide where to apply it. To create more opportunity for new affordable and desirable homes across the city, I believe we need to apply it as widely as possible. NTM-1 won’t solve St. Petersburg’s housing affordability problems by itself, but allowing more homes per lot throughout the city is the single most important thing we can do.