On Tuesday, the St. Petersburg Tenants Union (SPTU) and activist group Florida Rising gathered at Paradise apartments in the Bayou Highlands neighborhood to speak against what they say is abuse by landlord Robert G. Blackmon, a former city councilman for District One and current candidate for mayor.
SPTU says that on April 30, Blackmon purchased the 10-unit apartment complex at 330 45th Ave. S and that two tenants were immediately issued non-renewal notices on their lease. On May 11, they were ordered to vacate their homes in less than three weeks. SPTU says that another tenant was served a three-day notice for non-payment of rent, despite the Center for Disease Control’s eviction moratorium that stands in place until the end of the month.
At the press conference, SPTU pushed back on Blackmon’s actions.
“It is our belief that there was little if any effort exercised on the part of Blackmon Properties to improve conditions and to work with residents who have been behind on rent,” said William Kilgore of SPTU.
SPTU sent a letter demanding that repairs be made in full and that all eviction cases be voluntarily dismissed by Blackmon.
Tenants have complained about several critical maintenance failures involving the building's plumbing, electrical systems, and appliances.
Terrance Gordon says that his ceiling leaked on him due to a dysfunctional AC for almost three months. The union says that one of the women who lived in a unit was without a functioning oven for months. They claim Blackmon only recently started making repairs to the property after SPTU started organizing a demonstration.
On July 15, Blackmon Properties dismissed the three eviction cases.
“I am proud to be a provider of quality affordable housing in St. Petersburg. My family business manages affordable apartments throughout the city. We have worked to increase the supply of affordable housing options in our community,” wrote Blackmon in a statement to Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. “When we acquired Paradise Apartments on April 30th of this year, we immediately began preparations for extensive upgrades to the property. However, a number of residents were both non-communicative and non-paying, hindering the ability to make the necessary repairs and upgrades.”
Blackmon says they are moving forward with a six-figure repair and renovation of Paradise Apartments and are not currently seeking eviction of any resident of Paradise Apartments, and are committed to making this property something the residents of Paradise and the community can be proud of. He sent CL Tampa Bay several photos of what he says are renovations and upgrades to his properties.
On July 17, Florida Politics wrote about the ongoing issues at the apartment complex. The story included a confirmed Facebook post from 2012 where Blackmon says, “Just bought a 5 unit apartment building downtown. Now to kick out the tenants and start renovations…”
SPTU sees the dismissal of the eviction cases as a victory and a step in the right direction but said that their work is far from over at Paradise Apartments, and across the city, is far from over.
Despite the CDC eviction moratorium, SPTU says landlords still move to evict tenants regularly. According to SPTU’s numbers, 4,910 residential evictions have been filed in Pinellas County since April of 2020, 2,280 of those within St. Petersburg city limits. A majority of these evictions have affected low-income people of color, they say. They referenced the ills of Capitalism as the main reason behind this treatment of tenants during an economic crisis.
“Housing insecurity has been directly linked to reduced quality of life, systemic inequity, mental health trauma, and premature death,” wrote SPTU in their press conference announcement.
The union asks that repairs and renovations be completed in full at the Blackmon properties and that all tenants be given the opportunity to sign long-term leases to lock in current rent prices based on their income, which could enable them to live at the property for years to come.
Karla Correa of the SPTU referenced the fact that the evictions are occurring as Tampa Bay’s rent prices increase more than any other city in the nation.
“Gentrification is ravaging our city at an alarming rate,” Correa said. “This type of behavior is not acceptable from anyone, especially an elected official.”
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