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St. Petersburg activists call for affordable housing

The St. Petersburg Tenants Union, Florida Rising and community members discussed evictions and funding in a Saturday press conference.
Affordable housing advocates gather Saturday to focus attention on problems in Pinellas County.
Affordable housing advocates gather Saturday to focus attention on problems in Pinellas County. [ Natalie Weber ]
Published Apr. 24
Updated Apr. 24

Since April 2020, there have been 3,926 evictions filed across Pinellas County.

That’s according to the St. Petersburg Tenants Union, an organization that has been tracking housing data throughout the pandemic. About half of the evictions have taken place in St. Petersburg. And about a third of those — 614 in total — have been in the city’s historically Black community stretching across zip codes 33705, 33711 and 33712.

On Saturday, the tenants union gathered alongside Florida Rising and other members of the community outside Osprey Point Apartments to call for a ban on evictions, an expansion of renters’ rights, mandated rent control and more money for rental assistance.

“Housing is a human right,” said John Muhammad with Florida Rising. “It’s a fundamental right. It’s not a privilege.”

Jabaar Edmond, a St. Petersburg activist and filmmaker, feels the city has unique opportunities to provide affordable housing. In a phone interview with the Tampa Bay Times before the press conference, he said it’s important for government and corporate leaders to invest in solving the issue.

“We need our working-class people,” he told the Times. Stable housing leads to stable families and thus stable communities, Edmond said.

“Our housing is attached to our health,” he said.

The call for more affordable housing comes as home prices skyrocket across Tampa Bay and the nation, while the pandemic has highlighted possibilities for changes in Florida eviction law.

Edmond said the conference was held at Osprey Pointe Apartments because of a history of evictions there. Pinellas County court records indicate at least 10 eviction cases involving the complex over the past six months. No one from the apartment complex could be reached for comment Saturday.

William Kilgore, founder of the St. Petersburg Tenants Union, said city leaders had created a “playground for the rich” while telling working-class residents to move to places like Pasco County for more affordable housing.

“They don’t want us living here in Pinellas,” he said. “We’re the folks who cook your food. We’re the folks who bus at your restaurants. We’re the folks that take care of your kids, who teach your children.”

The Rev. Andy Oliver of Allendale United Methodist Church discussed Penny for Pinellas, an affordable housing project that activists critiqued as not including enough housing for lower-income families. He also criticized Florida lawmakers’ attempts to cut affordable housing funds.

“Every single person has a responsibility to make sure that people have a place to live,” he said. “It is a moral issue.”