Members of a local housing rights group say a "misleading" story from the Tampa Bay Times has been incorrect for nearly a week and is causing confusion.
On March 18, a Times article titled "St. Petersburg group wants to bargain with landlords for affordable housing" said that after the housing rights activist group was denied a permit for a sleep-in protest at City Hall, People's Council of St. Pete (PCSP) was instead concentrating on a new tactic.
"The group demanding that City Hall declare a state of emergency to address steep rent increases is now shifting its focus from local government to landlords," the lede of the Times story said.
The story claimed that now, the group wants to focus on organizing tenants to collectively bargain with landlords.
PCSP organizer Karla Correa says that the group is not shifting focus, but are participating in an ongoing multi-faceted approach to helping tenants.
"The people's council is going to keep concentrating on City Hall, because not enough is being done. And if the people decide they want to protest in any way shape or form at city hall, that's what we'll do," Correa told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. "I'm glad that a lot of people at least recognized how misleading the Times story was."
The landlord bargaining tactic discussed with the Times has been used since 2020 with the St. Petersburg Tenant's Union (SPTU), which the people's council shares members with.
Correa forwarded an email to CL that she sent to the corrections desk at the Tampa Bay Times on March 19, which included several corrections, and has not yet been responded to.
Correa also texted the reporter that the information was inaccurate. The reporter defended the story saying that's not what she was initially told, and said that the story emphasizes that the plan is still to push for rent control.
But buried at the bottom of the story, it says that the the separate group SPTU wants to continue to push for rent control, not the People's Council.
Getting City Hall to declare a housing state of emergency and enact rent control is still being concentrated on heavily by the council, several of the group's members told CL.
The group has recently met with mayor Ken Welch and future tenant protection tactics are set to be discussed at an upcoming PCSP meeting on April 6, from 6-8 p.m. at Allendale United Methodist Church.
Karla said that the PCSP member who was interviewed for the story, Aaron Dietrich, also contacted the Times with concerns about the article, claiming that what he said was misinterpreted.
Dietrich has not responded to request for comment at the time of publication of this story, but William Kilgore, who was also interviewed for the Times piece, did comment on the situation.
Kilgore said that at first, the framing of the story bothered him, but thought maybe it would pass without much notice. But it was when he and others in the group started getting contacted by other local media outlets, who were led to believe the group was shifting its focus away from council based on the content of Times piece, he then became more concerned about the story being misleading.
"The protest permit getting denied doesn't mean that kind of protest at city council is off the table," Kilgore said. "I made it clear when I was talking to the reporter about collective bargaining, that it's just an expansion of our efforts that the members of the people's council were already participating in."
Kilgore said that the story caused confusion within his group and from the outside as well, which disturbed him.
"It didn't sit right with me," he said.
Jack Wallace, an organizer with PCSP said that the framing of the story was the most misleading part.
"The story was framed in a way that made it seem like people's council was like changing tactics, or, you know, changing what it was doing, and abandoning pressuring City Hall," Wallace told CL.
CL contacted the reporter, who is currently out of the office, along with the media desk at the Times, but has yet to receive a response to the groups' claims.
For now, both the PCSP and the SPTU will continue to use their multi-faceted approach to protect renters in Tampa.
"In reality, two representatives from the People's Council met with Mayor Welch and we are having a People's Council meeting on April 6th," Correa wrote in her unanswered email to the Times' correction desk. "Rent control is not off the table. Tent city is certainly not off the table. Our organizations have been mentioned in the Tampa Bay Times many times, but we have never been misrepresented to this degree."
SPTU's Twitter response to the story:
One thing is for certain: we don’t need a permit to protest. If tenants don’t feel like the city gov is doing enough, we will proceed. Permit or not.— St. Petersburg Tenants Union (@SPTenantsU) March 21, 2022
The fight for rent control is nowhere near over — no matter how much the landlord-backed media wants you to believe that. https://t.co/X5ZNGeVnKV