Group demands St. Pete lawmakers make affordable housing top priority

A group of more than 200 people gathered in St. Petersburg to demand city leaders do something about soaring rent prices.

Some areas of the city have seen rates spike more than 20% in the last year, however, residents say their take-home pay hasn't changed.

"Residents are in despair about soaring rent prices and lack of affordable housing in St. Pete," said Aaron Dietrich, a community organizer leading the charge.

FOX 13 obtained a rent renewal offer from a police officer whose rent jumped $450 a month for their downtown apartment. Dietrich says the city’s workforce is being pushed out – with many renters being forced to move to different cities.

"What we are asking for is that city leaders respond to this emergency with a menu of policy options that are available to them right now," he said.

Mayor-elect Ken Welch says it’s a top priority when he takes office in January. Councilmember Darden Rice says she’s listening and is frustrated state lawmakers have prevented the city from taking drastic measures on things like rent control and imposing a fee for future developers who don’t include housing options for the workforce.

"It would be really helpful if the legislature would let cities lead to solve our own problems," Rice told FOX 13.

She says the city wants to get creative with grants for renters and new zoning to allow more apartments in smaller spaces.

The group who shared their concerns Monday said they will meet with city leaders but will also plan more protests, and even erect a tent city near the steps of city hall or at Tropicana Field if nothing is done.

"Frankly, it’s coming out of despair but it’s bringing people together," Dietrich said.

The group has meetings set up with three of the eight city council members. They plan to address St. Pete City Council on December 16.