St. Pete City Council votes to support $1.47 million in rental assistance for city employees

The city’s lowest-paid workers required to live within city limits could get up to $500 per month.
St. Petersburg City Council member Brandi Gabbard advocated for the housing stipend for the city's lowest paid workers.
St. Petersburg City Council member Brandi Gabbard advocated for the housing stipend for the city's lowest paid workers. [ DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published July 7, 2022|Updated July 7, 2022

City employees who are required to live within city limits could receive up to $500 per month in rental assistance starting in October.

City Council members on Thursday voted in support of Mayor Ken Welch setting aside $1.47 million for the Employee Rental Assistance program in his upcoming budget.

If the mayor approves the money, the city would provide monthly stipends of up to $500 in eligible employees’ paychecks for two years.

There are 246 employees with city residency requirements due to a rule the workers’ union advocated for in the 1990s meant to promote the hiring of more Black residents within city boundaries. The city at the time often employed older white workers who lived outside St. Petersburg, making it harder for minorities to find city jobs.

But the residency requirement also means some of the city’s lowest-paid workers — library assistants, sanitation workers and mail and cashier clerks — now can’t afford rising rental costs.

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

The average city employee earns $36,702 annually. They should spend no more than $917.55 — 30% of their monthly income — on housing, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But the median rent in St. Petersburg is $1,500 a month, leaving a gap of at least $500 for many employees.

Last year, Ron Overing, a library assistant, moved out of St. Petersburg with his ill parents after his landlord raised their rent $600. He applied for a residency waiver to keep his job and commutes two hours from Land O’ Lakes a day.

Now, Overing is looking to move back to the city.

“At this moment, there’s zero chance of me being able to afford moving back,” Overing said. “This (program) would actually put it within my budget.”

He says city employees have waited for years for rental assistance to be taken seriously. While Overing is unsure if the money would be enough for the next two years with rising inflation, he said the program is a step in the right direction.

“It’s enough that when it got brought up around my coworkers, we all literally had a sigh of relief,” he said.

The stipend amount would be contingent on the employee’s household income, which cannot exceed 120% of the area median income. Eligible employees must earn less than $48,000 annually.

The city plans to pay for the stipends through an influx in tax revenues collected from recent property value increases. City officials expect the total cost to be less than $1.47 million, as some city employees have moved out of St. Petersburg with a residency waiver.

Related: Tampa Bay property values bring record revenues, but not necessarily lower taxes

Eligible employees would also have to complete a financial literacy program, including personal financial management, budgeting and investing.

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“We are showing today with the passage of this funding resolution our commitment to our employees who are the backbone of the city,” said Council member Brandi Gabbard, who first introduced the program in 2018. “It is my hope that with the passage and implementation of this program, our major employers will also follow suit.”