Affordable Housing Crisis Hits Hard in St. Petersburg’s Districts 5 and 7
By Hope Garza
Mark Moore, a resident of St. Petersburg, Florida, experienced first-hand the effects of the affordable housing crisis. At 20-years old, Moore gained custody of his five nieces and nephews and found that even small apartments in St. Petersburg cost too much for him to afford.
Moore lived in uncomfortable housing situations with his family until he was accepted into the Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties homeownership program. He was able to build an affordable home of his own and provide solace for his family.
Another resident, Myranda Monroe, was living in a mold-infested apartment in St. Petersburg with her two children. Monroe was involved in a vehicle accident and had to return to work as a nurse, despite her extensive injuries, to support her family. Monroe believed she was out of options.
Upon being contacted by Habitat of Humanity, Monroe worked alongside others to build her own home and provide a safe, healthy environment for her children. Monroe’s children were happy to have a place of their own after the previous housing difficulties.
According to Ken Rush, Executive Vice President of Operations for Habitat for Humanity in Pinellas and West Pasco Counties, the concern for affordable housing is widespread throughout St. Petersburg.
“Specifically in Districts 5 and 7, which comprises most of south St. Petersburg, the majority of the housing stock is over fifty years old with anything new being built generally unaffordable for individuals/families either at or below one-hundred percent area median income,” stated Ken Rush.
Habitat for Humanity works to increase the availability of affordable housing in Districts 5 and 7, and beyond. The non-profit is also hoping to make change through conversations with local government.
“Candidates need to be able to address ways to help nonprofits and for-profits alike in ways to reduce costs, break down the zoning regulations and make the affordable housing agenda a priority for all of those persons who are adversely affected by this dilemma,” Rush added.
William Livsey, Vice President of Rent Control Coalition in St. Petersburg, also has concerns about affordable housing and commented on the inability for residents to afford housing without making upwards of forty-thousand dollars per year. Though there are available jobs for residents, but Livsey believes the cost of living is simply too high.
The Rent Control Coalition focuses on attending local events, hosting fundraisers and going door-to-door to gain the support of residents. One goal of the group is to put pressure on the city council to address affordable housing concerns. Livsey is proposing a one-year rent freeze for apartment tenants.
The City of St. Petersburg has a ten-year housing plan in place that will begin in 2020. The city hopes to accomplish a list of things, including developing additional family units for low-to-moderate-income households and allowing homeowners to remain in their homes by resolving code violation issues with city funds.
According to the City of St. Petersburg, “the largest and most impactful piece of the plan will leverage approximately $60 million of city funding for the construction and preservation of 2,400 affordable multi-family units.”
Stephanie Lampe, Senior Housing Development Coordinator for the City of St. Petersburg, is asking for candidates to continue moving forward with the current ten-year plan proposed by the city.
“Based on American Community Survey data, nearly forty-three percent of owner-occupied households in St. Petersburg currently spend over thirty percent of their income on housing and fifty-two percent of renter households spend over thirty percent of their income for housing. For low-income and senior households these percentages are even higher,” Lampe said. “This has an impact on the community since we know that when people have stable, accessible, affordable homes, their lives and health outcomes dramatically improve.”
On October 19, 2019, the democratic city council candidates met for an affordable housing forum in St. Petersburg. Candidates addressed public concerns regarding the housing crisis and presented steps they would take if they are elected during the November general election.
One of the District 7 candidates, Eritha Akilé Cainion, is concerned that the ten-year housing plan proposed by the city would take too long and believes there needs to be more immediate action taken.
“This stuff has to happen today because people are sleeping on park benches right as we have this discussion,” Cainion said.
One way Cainion hopes to address resident concerns is by eliminating the growth of additional luxury residences in south St. Petersburg.
“With all of the luxury apartment development that is happening, it brings up the rent of everybody else in those surrounding areas. So it doesn’t help anybody for those luxury apartments to be there except for the developers themselves and the politicians that work for them,” Cainion said.
Cainion is promoting rent control and has goals to make sure no residents in her district are paying more than twenty-five percent of their income toward rent. Her one-year plan includes making sure that any developer hoping to build in St. Petersburg shares her goals regarding affordable housing and is willing to invest in the community.
One of the District 5 candidates, Trenia Cox, is planning to approach the affordable housing crisis at a different angle. Cox has goals to focus on what housing programs already exist, provide residents with the details and criteria needed to understand these programs and work with developers to provide more affordable housing options.
“I am not for rent control, but I certainly am for having the realtors and developers come to the table…and see how we can do a balancing act. Because we want to make sure we have that fair share of housing for those that can only spend thirty percent [of their income],” Cox said.