St. Pete approves plan for new affordable, workforce housing complex as rents continue to rise

St. Petersburg city council approved a plan Thursday for a new affordable and workforce housing complex to help address the city’s housing crisis and rising rents.

Council members voted to green light development of 264 units off Fairfield Avenue South in St. Pete on land that was previously zoned industrial and was previously home to Tibbett’s Lumber. All the units will be income-restricted, developers said.

"No market rate units with no tax credits involved. This is a very unique application," said Rob Gerdes, the city administrator.

City leaders tackled St. Pete’s housing crisis on different fronts Thursday. The Youth and Family Services committee discussed options for a renter’s right to an attorney when facing an eviction, which is a big focus for the St. Pete Tenants Union.

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"We’re going to keep pushing for universal access to an attorney for anybody facing an eviction," said William Kilgore, a St. Pete Tenants Union organizer.

Kilgore said it was good to see progress even though details still need to be nailed down.

"We’re getting messages and calls daily, you know people saying, ‘My rent went up double. My rent went up $800 or even $1000.' I mean it’s crazy what we’re hearing from people," said Kilgore.

The Housing, Land Use and Transportation committee looked at the possibility of a rental assistance program for city employees, which could include a $500 rent stipend.

"That would go each month toward their rent, hopefully to reduce that rent burden so that they can turn around and save money and get into a better financial situation, so that eventually they can become a homeowner," said Gina Driscoll, St. Pete City Councilmember for District 6. She added that part of the discussion also included financial education to help employees improve their savings, credit and standing for a home loan.

Affordable housing advocates said families need help now not months down the line.

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"They need to pick up the pace and hurry up. They need to be meeting on these housing solutions every week, taking as long as it takes to push all of these measures down the pipeline," said Kilgore.

Council members said they have to attack problems in the present and the future.

"Long term we’ll have more housing affordability options for everyone, but in the short term we want to deal with those crisis level situations that we’re still seeing right now," said Driscoll. 

She said the eviction help would help renters immediately and the housing development and rental assistance would be longer term.

The developers on the approved apartment complex said they also need to get Pinellas County government to sign off. Once that happens, developers said construction will start before the end of the year. 

Council member Driscoll said the city council plans to have a bigger discussion on zoning, which could give people more flexibility with housing solutions.