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PROTESTS DON'T CARRY THE DAY

A public hearing on affordable housing brings little relief.

Marty Brinsko waved a sign outside the Pinellas County Courthouse Tuesday night, urging county commissioners to spend more money on affordable housing. She led the crowd of more than 150 to sing We Shall Overcome.

Brinsko, 61, was there to hold some county commissioners to a promise they made earlier this year.

In 2006, the board created a trust fund to provide more affordable housing, and pledged to put in $30 million. But the fund is $10.8 million short.

Next year's proposed budget adds no money to the fund, despite promises in April from Commissioners Calvin Harris, John Morroni, Karen Seel and Ken Welch to seek $5 million for the fund. The promises were made to supporters of Faith and Action for Strength Together, a group of religious denominations supporting the fund and the protest.

"They have to keep their promise," said Brinsko, a FAST member at Holy Family Church in St. Petersburg.

But FAST supporters left a public hearing Tuesday night unfulfilled. Seel tried to broker $5 million from reserves and loan repayments. But Welch and Commissioner Nancy Bostock balked over tapping reserves while not easing cuts to hospitals or decreasing proposed utility rate hikes.

The housing fund offers grants and loans to help people who want to build and buy homes - but not to existing homeowners struggling with bills.

"If we put $20 million in the pot tonight, it won't solve the problem," Commissioner Susan Latvala said.

People living in more than 45,000 Pinellas households won't be able to afford the home they're in next year, according to FAST projections from the University of Florida. That's up from 31,000 in 2006.

Pinellas plans to spend $13 million on affordable housing in 2010. But the county's proposed $1.7 billion budget cuts $70 million from 2010 programs, including $3 million on indigent care at hospitals.

Final decisions will be made when the budget is approved at a 6:30 p.m. hearing Sept. 22.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.

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