Jami Speegle was five days away from major spine surgery when she found the notice to vacate taped to her door.
The 43-year-old with degenerative disc disease had put off surgery before because she didn’t have stable housing she felt she needed for a successful recovery.
But when Speegle moved into the Stanton Apartments in November, she finally felt like she had a place to call home. The building was only a short distance from the hospital where her doctor worked, and there was a wheelchair ramp that led up to her unit on the first floor.
Speegle said that after a difficult few years, she felt like she was finally getting a break.
Not for long.
On Sept. 30, residents at the Stanton Hotel and Stanton Apartments, located on the corner of 2nd Avenue N and 3rd Street, received notices that their tenancy was being terminated and had 15 to 30 days to vacate the property, depending on their lease.
The move comes as the current property owner, TJM Properties, is in contract negotiations to sell the Stanton property to New Hotel Collection, which owns a boutique hotel next door and wants to expand.
Amid record rent spikes across Tampa Bay, the planned demolition of the St. Petersburg apartment building where Speegle lives has left low-income residents scrambling to find housing.
Residents at the Stanton currently pay differing amounts in rent each month, depending on the size and renovation status of the room or apartment. The rents of residents interviewed by the Tampa Bay Times ranged from $640 - $1,100 a month. The average cost of one-bedroom apartment in St. Petersburg, according to zumper.com, is $1,600.
“It’s physically impossible for me to move right now,” Speegle said through tears on Monday. “We had no warning. By next week, I could be paralyzed. I have so much weighing on me. Now, they’re telling me I have nowhere to live.”
According to Kyle Parks, spokesman for New Hotel Collection, the plan is to demolish the Stanton buildings and expand the neighboring Cordova Inn. That’s all pending the finalization of the sale and permitting from the city of St. Petersburg. Parks said that New Hotel Collection is not involved in the process of vacating the property nor interacting with current tenants.
Matt Bradley, head of Development and Operations for TJM properties, said the notices to vacate were delivered because of the sale negotiations and because of the poor condition of the buildings, which are nearly 100 years old.
“We are trying our best to help the tenants relocate,” Bradley said. “The buildings have reached the end of the useful and economic life.”
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He said the company was working with some tenants to provide them more time.
But several residents at the Stanton said they were caught off guard by the notices and that they haven’t received much assistance at all.
The Times spoke with 16 of the buildings’ current occupants who said they had yet to receive any meaningful assistance from the company. Several were in their early 60s or older, and many had health conditions that they said made it difficult to get around. Just two had access to a car.
“It’s really rough for people here,” said Toddrick Washington, who has lived at the Stanton Apartments for the last four years. “To give just 30 days at a time like this, it’s inhumane.”
Florida law only requires that residents on month-to-month leases be given 15 days notice to vacate, while those who pay weekly are only entitled to seven.
The city of St. Petersburg has an ordinance in place that requires developers to notify tenants 90 days before a demolition project takes place. City spokesman Ben Kirby said that code section was added to provide more time for relocation of tenants in the event of a demolition project. But because the likely new owner — New Hotel Collection — hasn’t closed on the buildings yet, nor gone through the permitting process, the ordinance does not apply.
Washington, 52, said that many of the Stanton residents live paycheck to paycheck and are vulnerable populations. The rental market makes things even more difficult, he said. Because of that, he hopes that TJM properties will reconsider and allow residents to stay until the end of year.
Tampa Bay has seen the highest rent spikes out of any metro area in the country. As of August, demand was so high that the average vacancy rate was below 5 percent for the first time on record, the Times has reported.
Sitting outside of his apartment on Tuesday, Washington held up a piece of paper that residents received along with the notices to vacate.
The top, printed in bold font, read, “Here is a list of resources”.
Three web addresses with phone numbers were typed out below. The third was for the Homeless Leadership Alliance of Pinellas.
“See this right here,” said Washington, pointing to the list. “What’s that say? Homeless.”
He shook his head.
“They know what they’re doing to people and they’re doing it anyway. I get that this is business. I get that we have to go. It’s part of life,” Washington said. “All we’re asking for is a little more time so people can make arrangements.”
On Thursday, representatives of the Homeless Leadership Alliance of Pinellas were at the Stanton to provide additional assistance, Bradley, of TJM Properties, said.
‘The best transition possible’
In addition to the three links to local housing organizations that TJM Properties provided residents, the company said it would pay $500 to tenants who moved out by the end of the month and would waive October rent. Part of that funding is supported by New Hotel Collection, which agreed to provide an undisclosed sum of money to the current owner for the purpose of helping tenants with relocation, according to Parks, New Hotel Collection’s spokesperson.
That information was not provided to residents until five days after the notices were posted, and after a Times reporter contacted TJM Properties to inquire about available assistance. Bradley said the delay in informing residents was because the company was still working out the details.
Even so, said longtime resident Michael Nesmith, that’s $500 that people could use right now.
“A lot of us don’t have the money to put down a [security deposit] on a new place, and that’s assuming we find one at all,” said Nesmith, 54.
Nesmith said he’s been living at the Stanton for the last six years and he’s built his life around this home. He doesn’t have a car, but he’s a cook at a restaurant just down the street and everyday he walks to work. Now that he has to move, he’s worried it’s going to affect his job.
“Public transportation here isn’t good,” Nesmith said. “If I find a place, it’s probably going to be way out. I’ll have to figure out how to get myself to work.”
Bradley said there are 50 residents between the two properties — and some have already moved out. But Nesmith said by his best estimate, there are between 75 and 100 people living between the apartments and hotel. He’s worried for his neighbors.
Bob Goddard, 72, agreed.
Goddard, a veteran, said he’s been living in the hotel for the last six years. He pays $160 a week. Because he pays weekly, instead of monthly, his notice was just 15 days.
“Most of us are low-income people,” Goddard said. “Where are we supposed to go?”
It’s a question echoed around the buildings, one that residents say they are trying to answer.
The night before her spine surgery, Speegle sat outside her apartment on a padded orange chair chatting with a neighbor next door. They were talking about how to negotiate for more time.
“I don’t like conflict, I want to make this the best transition possible,” Speegle said. “But this is not how you handle situations where people’s lives are on the line, much less at the tail end of a pandemic. You don’t do this to good people.”