ST. PETERSBURG — Ashley Stahl and her family cut it close the morning that deputies arrived to evict the last residents from the derelict Mosley Motel.
They made it out on that Oct. 3 day before the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office threatened to move them out. But the family didn't go far — they simply drove their packed minivan to another motel down the street.
That's because closing the Mosley — a longtime home for poor families and the elderly, but also a magnet for crime — does not solve the larger socioeconomic problems of the 34th Street corridor.
Stahl, 33, her husband, Vern, 46, and their six children aren't the only former Mosley residents who took up residence at another cheap 34th Street motel. Officials believe a dozen or so families live there.
Some families hope their stay will last just a few days while they wait to move into more stable housing. Others fear being trapped in another motel for weeks, months, even years — the same fate as the hundreds of residents who used to live at the now shuttered Mosley at 401 34th St N.
St. Petersburg's manager of veterans, social and homeless services, Cliff Smith, and other social service agencies scrambled in the Mosley's last weeks to relocate residents and find them new housing. But he's concerned that some "have gone right back into the same situation they were at the Mosley."
That means living week to week in a place not meant to be a permanent home.
"My fear is that some of them are going to say, 'This isn't so bad,' " Smith said. "This is a unique opportunity to help them to break out of the cycle of living in motel rooms."
The city teamed up with Pinellas County and social service agencies to find homes for Mosley residents, even helping them with move-in costs.
But that was a temporary solution to what is an ongoing problem: Pinellas County has a shortage of affordable housing.
Rufus Brown, 55, had to move across the street with his adult daughter to the New Plaza Motel at 400 34th St. N.
"It's not bad," he said. "It's a nice room, but there is no microwave and no kitchen."
Brown, who works the third shift at a bakery, lived at the Mosley for more than two years. He qualifies for financial help to move into permanent housing, but said he has been unable to find "a decent place" that's affordable.
Deanna Stafford, 62, also moved to the New Plaza. Stafford, who lives with her son, Timothy Cameron, 48, and his dog, is disabled. She estimates that six other Mosley families also moved into the New Plaza. She hoped to soon move into a one-bedroom mobile home.
St. Petersburg City Council Chairwoman Amy Foster, who is on the Pinellas County Homeless Leadership Board, said the coalition of government and social service agencies was able "to get the majority" of Mosley residents into new homes — but not everyone.
"I'm concerned if others moved into motels as a long-term solution," said Foster, who promised during her run for council to clean up nuisance motels along 34th Street.
The Mosley had a reputation for crime and drugs, and racked up thousands in fines from the city's nuisance abatement board. But Foster said it wasn't the only 34th Street property under scrutiny.
"I think the issue isn't with motels," Foster said, "the issue is with the ownership and management that allow criminal activity to occur on their property."
The Mosley, which was in foreclosure when it was acquired by Miami-based Altis Cardinal in July, is now surrounded by a chain-link security fence. Altis says it will demolish the property for redevelopment.
Meanwhile, the Pinellas County School District said former Mosley families with at least six school-age children have moved to the nearby Kenwood Village Inn at 701 34th St. N. Some children also moved to shelters while others did manage to find permanent homes.
St. Petersburg needs "to pick up the pace of renovating houses and building affordable housing," City Council member Karl Nurse said.
"In Midtown, about one out of six houses is empty and most of those need to be renovated … ," he said. "So there will a proposal coming forward to lower the cost of permits for building affordable housing."
Nurse added that the city is also revising its land development regulations to lower the cost of building affordable housing and will look at zoning "to allow the construction of duplexes and small apartment buildings."
It's the sort of remedy that can't come soon enough for some former Mosley residents.
Julie Lythgoe, 52, had to settle on the nearby Driftwood Motel at 1600 34th St. S. She is sharing a room — and a bed — with a friend. But she said:
"I've got a roof over my head and air conditioning."
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.