As housing crisis continues, St. Pete Mayor Ken Welch details distribution of $34 million in ARPA funds

He met with housing activists last month, and has another meeting on the books for April 20.

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click to enlarge St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch at the Jordan Park redevelopment groundbreaking on Jan. 28, 2022. - Photo via cityofstpete/Flickr
Photo via cityofstpete/Flickr
St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch at the Jordan Park redevelopment groundbreaking on Jan. 28, 2022.
Mayor Ken Welch has detailed how St. Petersburg will distribute $34 million in ARPA funds. The breakdown comes after his March meeting with the People’s Council of St. Pete, which just wrapped its latest strategy meeting on Wednesday.

Two months ago, over a hundred residents rallied outside St. Petersburg City Hall and demanded rent control and a housing state of emergency. Two months before that, over 600 people signed and presented a petition to the City Council asking for substantive aid in the rapidly rising housing costs across the city.

This week, about 70 people attended the People’s Council of St. Pete’s Wednesday meeting at Allendale United Methodist Church to discuss strategy.

After the two-hour meeting, the group reached a consensus: residents unanimously voted for rent control and guaranteed housing. And over 76% voted to conduct a sit-in in hopes that continued pressure on city leadership will produce more immediate results than they’ve seen thus far.

“People still have no idea we are going through these things,” St. Pete’s Stacy Rush said. “When we become their eyesore, that makes them do something.”

Rush was displaced earlier this year after her rent went from $600 to $1,300. She put her life into storage, staying with friends and family until she can find housing again.
After a presentation from legal in February, the Housing, Land Use, and Transportation committee decided that even giving residents the right to vote on rent control was too legally risky. In addition, the committee voted 3-1 against council member Richie Floyd’s motion to declare even a symbolic housing state of emergency.

“Just because they voted rent control down...doesn't mean anything; the fight is still on,” Karla Correa with the St. Pete Tenants Union said. “Everyone in this room has been part of inspiring a statewide movement for housing justice.”

Following St. Pete’s pushback, the Tampa Tenants Union and residents fought for its city’s tenants’ bill of rights ordinance. The council unanimously approved the measure after a rough road to its passage. In January, residents at the Holly Court Apartments in North Tampa received notices to vacate but successfully fought back. Two weeks ago, amid pressure from the Miami Workers Center, Miami-Dade passed the tenant's fair notice of rent increases of 5% or more to 60-days from 30-days. This week, Orange County Commissioner Emily Bonilla proposed a rent hike cap of 5% or rate of inflation, whichever is less, for up to one year, pending voter approval. Even Collier County has formed its own tenants’ union to push for affordable housing.

In recent weeks, St. Pete City Council voted to allocate $34 million in ARPA funds for housing. CL asked Mayor Ken Welch how the city is spending those funds moving forward.

Welch said ARPA funds will be allocated as follows:
  • $20 million for affordable multi-family development. (Currently working on RFP)
  • $6.5 million for Deuces Rising workforce townhome construction
  • $2.5 million for Scattered Site Family Shelter for Homeless
  • Families. (City Council awarded the contract to St. Vincent DePaul)
  • $1 million for Permanent Supportive Housing Services (RFP responses being evaluated now)
  • $3.5 million set aside for future rental assistance or other needs
  • $500,000 for administrative costs
Floyd has proposed the tenant’s guaranteed right to counsel in the Youth and Family Services Committee. Guaranteed right to counsel for tenants has shown eviction reductions of more than 80% in New York City. St. Pete’s committee meets Thursday, April 14, at 1:30 p.m. to review the matter further.

“We’ll discuss what’s possible,” Floyd told CL. “And what a program might look like.”

Last month, Mayor Welch agreed to meet with delegates from the People’s Council.

“It was a productive conversation in which we were able to share the progress we’ve already made, discuss our future and ongoing goals, and share ideas on additional, transformative action,” Welch told CL. “We believe success is best found through collaboration and have agreed to ongoing meetings with the group to remain inclusive of its needs, including by welcoming additional members to participate in conversations.”

Brother John Muhammad, of the People’s Council and a lead organizer with Florida Rising, was one of the delegates that met with Welch and spoke Wednesday about that discussion.

“No longer do we want to have subject matter experts or researchers,” Muhammad said. “We want to have the people who are living this day in and day out at the table to make those decisions.”
click to enlarge A mural by Zulu Painter at the Skyway Lofts in St. Petersburg, Florida. - Photo via cityofstpete/Flickr
Photo via cityofstpete/Flickr
A mural by Zulu Painter at the Skyway Lofts in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Muhammad says Welch and his team agreed to another People’s Council meeting to plan the sit-in on Wednesday, April 20. The city sent the list of current and upcoming affordable housing projects: Delmar 745 will have 65-units for 30%-60% AMI incomes, and Skyway Lofts with 65-units for 30-80% AMI incomes. The Skyway Lofts answering machine says all applicant appointments are filled, but a waitlist is available.

“Skyway lofts had 1,800 applicants for 65 units,” Floyd told CL. “I'm not sure if those numbers are exact, but that's what I've heard.”

CL contacted Skyway Lofts via email to confirm this and hasn’t heard back yet.

The city says it’s upped down payment assistance for first-time homebuyers, home rehabilitation assistance, and developer incentives for affordable housing projects.

“We increased the amount of down payment assistance from $40,000 to $60,000 for those earning at or below 80% AMI, with a full loan forgiveness option after 10 years of continued occupancy in the home,” Welch told CL. “This puts homeownership within the reach of additional residents.”

Welch also told CL that the city expanded its South St. Pete CRA Developer Land Acquisition Incentive, giving up to $40,000 (up from $10,000) to developers with projects that target those at or below 120% AMI. And existing homeowner rehabilitation funds increased to $60,000 from $45,000 (with forgiveness for those at or below 80% AMI after 10 years).

“This encourages more affordable housing and will help build stock,” Welch told CL.

Two more affordable projects are underway: the Shores at 31st Street S and 26th Avenue with 51-units, and Jordan Park with a new 60-unit affordable housing building and renovation on 206 rental units. There’s also CRA-funded construction of 10 single-family homes at 12th Ave. S. and 16th St., sold to those at or below 80% AMI ($59,040 for a family of four). But even with more money from the city for renters, homeowners, potential homebuyers, and developers, those at Wednesday’s meeting say it still isn’t enough.

“I have applied for emergency assistance that could take six months to get,” resident Carolyn Ballinger said. “That’s just for emergency assistance.”

The next People’s Council meeting is Wednesday, April 20, location TBA, with a sit-in in the works. In the meantime, the group is pushing for a public landlord registry, for which council members Floyd and Deborah Figgs-Sanders have expressed support. It’s also suggested six months’ notice to tenants for rent increases of 3% or more, with rehousing costs. And the group wants the city to invest in a public option for permanently affordable housing, aka guaranteed housing. As far as the People’s Council is concerned, the fight for emergency rent control is still in play. And how much would it cost the city to fight the legal battle for rent control if it meant housing for thousands, not a few hundred, currently at risk of losing their homes?

“This movement is growing like a wildfire,” Correa said. “Because this emergency is not going away anytime soon without serious intervention.”

UPDATED: 04/11/22 9:32 a.m. Updated to show that the April 20 People's Council meeting is for planning a sit-in. Time for a tenant's committee on representation was also updated.
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