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St. Petersburg hired a specialist to help curb evictions. These are the results.

The city is adding a second community service representative to help renters avoid eviction.
 
Karla Correa, an organizer with the St. Petersburg Tenants Union, advocates for rent control outside St. Petersburg City Hall on Aug. 10. The city helped divert 117 evictions filed between August 2022 and last month.
Karla Correa, an organizer with the St. Petersburg Tenants Union, advocates for rent control outside St. Petersburg City Hall on Aug. 10. The city helped divert 117 evictions filed between August 2022 and last month. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]
Published Feb. 16, 2023|Updated Feb. 17, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG — Over a recent five-month period, landlords filed 821 eviction notices in St. Petersburg.

The city’s first-ever community support specialist, whose job is to connect renters facing eviction to available resources, made contact with all but eight of those tenants. The result: The city helped divert 117 evictions filed between August 2022 and last month.

The city is now allocating another job within its codes compliance department to create a second specialist position, splitting the workload in half. That second staffer will start in March.

“We certainly did not anticipate the workload,” said Joe Waugh, the city’s code compliance assistance director.

Waugh and Beatriz Zafra, the community service representative who started her job in August, gave a presentation to City Council members Thursday at the Youth and Family Services Committee meeting. The committee got a lesson on how evictions work and what the city can do to avoid them.

In her first six months on the job, Zafra made direct contact with 350 tenants, or 43% of those she attempted to reach. She held 700 follow-up phone conversations. She said 27 tenants refused assistance and 19 tenants retained private counsel.

Most of those 745 eviction filings were for nonpayment of rent. The city found that the average past due rent was $3,159.

The 33712 ZIP code had the highest number of evictions, 197, or a quarter of the city’s share. The area includes homes from Central Avenue south to Tampa Bay between 34th Street South to 16th Street South.

Waugh said Zafra conducts daily research of Pinellas County Clerk of the Court records to identify evictions in St. Petersburg and attempts to contact each renter at their home. If contact is not made, she leaves a door hanger with educational resources.

The city works with Bay Area Legal Services, 211, the Homeless Leadership Alliance and the Community Law program. The council committee is exploring how the city can provide renters with a right to legal counsel.

The city also is working on enforcing tenant’s bill of rights violations and code compliance violations discovered through tenant complaints. Code compliance staff also is working to identify tenants who are at risk of eviction. Those workers completed over 450 tenant-initiated inspections of rental units last year.

Community and neighborhood affairs administrator Amy Foster said there was a 48% increase in the number of tenants asking codes compliance for inspections. Some of those landlords, she said, are repeat offenders.

“We are really seeing an increase in our city of properties that are not up to par,” Foster said.

The city issued 26 citations to landlords for trying to charge improper late fees and gave 13 fines for not providing residents with required notice of rights. Four citations went for landlords who did not meet requirements for terminating a month-to-month tenancy and one violation was for discrimination against a renter’s source of income.

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The city issued $2,300 in fines to those landlords and got $3,300 in late fees removed from renters’ dues.