St. Petersburg employees on track to get up to $500 a month in rental assistance

Only union employees required to live within city limits earning less than $48,000 would be eligible.
City sanitation employees clean up a fish kill in Coffeepot Bayou Wednesday in July 2021.
City sanitation employees clean up a fish kill in Coffeepot Bayou Wednesday in July 2021. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]
Published June 9, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG — City employees bound to a union rule to live within city limits could get up to an extra $500 in their paychecks to help offset rising rental costs by as soon as October.

There are 246 employees under a residency requirement due to a rule the worker’s union sought in the 1990s. The city at the time seldom hired Black residents, instead employing older white workers who lived outside of city limits. The rule was meant to promote hiring more people who lived within city boundaries, creating greater opportunity for minorities to land a city job.

Related: Some St. Petersburg city workers say they can’t afford their city

They include some of the city’s lowest paid employees — library assistants, security officers, maintenance and sanitation workers — who have a maximum pay of $47,923; the average salary is $36,702. People are considered cost burdened if they spend more than 30% of their household income on housing. That means employees making the average salary should pay no more than $917.55 a month. But the median rent in St. Petersburg is $1,500.

City officials on Tuesday moved forward with an employee rental assistance program, but instead of paying directly to landlords, the city will provide stipends in employee’s paychecks, subject to taxes. Eligible employees could see more money in their paychecks by October 1. Applications likely will be available before then.

“It’s exactly what I had hoped it would be,” said council chairperson Gina Driscoll at the Housing, Land Use and Transportation Committee.

The proposal will go to before the full City Council in July. If every eligible employee applied, it would cost the city $1.47 million. The city plans on paying for it through ad valorem taxes collected from increases in property values.

The total price tag is expected to be less than that. Only 80% of eligible employees who live in the city would be eligible — those who moved away did so with a residency waiver. If all of those employees applied and were eligible, that would cost $1.1 million.

The stipend is also contingent on the employee’s household’s income, which can be no more than 120% of the area median income, and the current lease.

The amount distributed is based on employees paying no more of 30% of their income on housing. Eligible employees also would have to complete a financial fitness training program “to build financial skills, including personal financial management, budgeting, and investing,” the city said. The assistance would be available for two years.

“That in itself could help them in their next option,” said neighborhood affairs administrator James Corbett. “My hope is that coming out of the two years they’re in a better financial place to make whatever decision it is.”

Council member Richie Floyd said he hoped the financial literacy requirements wouldn’t be too cumbersome, and asked the city to consider allowing employees to do some of that training during work hours to not encroach too much on personal time.

“I’m big on avoiding paternalism as much as possible,” he said. “I think that people are smart, just as smart as the people sitting in this room, and that they can make their own decisions.”