Welcome to the Catalyst Community Voices platform. We’ve organized community leaders and thinkers from all parts of our great city to talk about issues that affect us all. Visit our Community Voices page for more details.
As a community organizer, I have had the opportunity to hear many stories from my neighbors who have had troubling housing experiences in St. Pete. Their stories can be found almost every day of the week in local media. They are not housing experts, but they know the problem intimately because they live with it daily and can tell you that their leaders at the local and state level, for the most part, have not come up with a serious plan for affordable housing. .
Last year, I met Alexa at a city council meeting. She shared her story of growing up in St. Pete when segregation was legal and how she saw the explosion of growth happening in the city as a whole without ever going to her neighborhood of South St. Pete. . Now, there are concerns that she can’t afford to stay when that growth comes.
The housing market across Florida, particularly the Tampa Bay area, has produced enormous wealth. However, when we assess what the market has done, we must also be honest that the wealth it provides has come with massive inequality, disproportionately leaving our black and brown neighbors behind. It is almost impossible for low-income families to buy newly built homes at an affordable price. The fact is, we are fighting this fight with one hand tied behind our backs because we have seen it almost exclusively through an economic lens.
Suppose we really had to create a St. Petersburg where “the sun shines on everyone”. In this case, we must begin to consider housing as a social issue, where it is our responsibility to guarantee housing for every inhabitant. What if we based housing investments not on creating attractive profit margins for developers, but on ensuring that people have a safe and stable physical space on which to establish a foundation for their lives?
Let’s imagine that every person who takes a job located in St. Pete, or who has lived in St. Pete for three years or more, or who has a direct descendant who has lived in the Gas Plant neighborhood is guaranteed to pay no more than 30% of their income for rent. What if every new housing development included a mix of public, subsidized and market-priced units. City land can be used to build a community land trust where residents can buy into the trust and a house within the community. The loss of a job would not come with the danger of homelessness. Guaranteeing stable and secure housing would reduce crime rates and improve children’s health and education.
Saint Petersburg is not the only city with housing problems. Rent prices in South Florida are up 36%, and nationwide rents are up 14% by the end of 2021. We hope the City of St. Pete has the courage to look at housing from a different perspective and that will inspire other cities and states to do the same.
Nick Carey is a Faith in Florida organizer. Learn more about housing work in St. Petersburg at www.peoplescouncilstpete.org.