St. Pete’s potential solution to affordable housing? Development fees

The new Burlington Post, an affordable apartment building for 55 and older residents, opened in August in St. Petersburg. The building has 86 apartments. (SCOTT KEELER   |   Times)
The new Burlington Post, an affordable apartment building for 55 and older residents, opened in August in St. Petersburg. The building has 86 apartments. (SCOTT KEELER | Times)
Published September 13 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — The city is considering fees on new development in its latest effort to provide more affordable housing.

City Council's Budget, Finance and Taxation Committee voted Thursday to seek proposals for a study on the impacts of a potential linkage fee. Such a fee is used in other cities and charges developers a rate per square foot of new construction. That money is then used for building and maintaining affordable residential units.

Neighborhood Affairs Administrator Rob Gerdes said he expects the study to cost between $80,000 and $100,000, though bids could come in higher. City staff must present those bids to the budget committee before deciding whether to move forward with the study. Gerdes suggested pulling money from the $250,000 that will be set aside in the 2019 budget to address affordable housing.

Gerdes said studies have shown new construction has a significant impact on the scarcity of affordable housing, exacerbating a rising problem in the city.

"St. Petersburg is a desired place," City Council member Charlie Gerdes said. "There is a premium on real estate for living in our city. It's a wonderful thing, but it hurts this (affordable housing) problem. It's harder to be affordable in St. Petersburg because of that premium."

In 2016, 35 percent of households in St. Petersburg spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing. An additional 16 percent of all households spent at least  half of their total income on housing.

Charlie Gerdes and other council members, such as Amy Foster and Brandi Gabbard, stressed the importance of addressing affordable housing with multiple approaches — a potential linkage fee being just one of them.

The study Rob Gerdes suggested Thursday would provide information that could shape a linkage fee ordinance but also give helpful context on market conditions, types and numbers of housing available, current housing need, and other factors that could inform the overall discussion about affordable housing solutions going forward.

"I think there are outcomes of this study that will be beneficial to us regardless of whether we move forward with establishing a fee," Foster said.

A similar study was done in 2007, but Pinellas County pulled the plug on a drafted ordinance after the economy took a hit, Rob Gerdes said. Mayor Rick Baker and the administration at the time also opposed the fee, Rob Gerdes said.

The city has already done some outreach to realtors and the chamber of commerce regarding a linkage fee. Both were reticent about the idea, with the chamber encouraging the city to look into other alternatives before spending money on a study.

The biggest concerned shared by realtors, Rob Gerdes said, was that the fee would be designed to raise money for affordable housing, but down the line that money could be diverted to something else, like the general fund.

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