ST. PETERSBURG — Phyllis Young lost her home once, when her parents were forced to move out of the Gas Plant neighborhood to make way to build a baseball stadium.
Now at 72, her 31-year-old daughter had to move back in with her a few years ago because the cost of housing was too expensive. Even with a full-time job, her daughter can’t afford her own apartment.
Young was surrounded by about 100 people wearing FAST stickers, representing the interreligious group Faith & Action for Strength Together. On the steps of St. Petersburg City Hall on Thursday morning, most raised their hands to show they knew someone who is struggling to pay rent, left St. Petersburg because they couldn’t afford it anymore or moved in with other families to survive.
“Families like mine who have lived and worked in St. Petersburg for decades are being pushed out because of the cost of housing,” Young said. “If we don’t create 5,000 units of housing for working families in the next few years, thousands more of us will lose the city we call home.”
Faith & Action for Strength Together seeks solutions for injustices ranging from lack of affordable housing to juvenile justice reform, applying pressure on elected officials. On Thursday, they demanded that the city create 5,000 housing units for families making 80% of the area median income or less, which is around $65,000 for a family of four, by the end of Mayor Ken Welch’s first term in 2026.
That’s more aggressive than new housing goals Welch’s administration recently rolled out. In April, he pledged 3,200 units of affordable housing citywide over the next decade. The faith leaders said it wasn’t clear what incomes families would need to qualify for that housing.
“The question with affordable housing is always, ‘Affordable...,’” Robert Ward, pastor of Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, led the crowd. “For who?” the crowd said together.
No one from the Welch administration was present at the demonstration. In a statement, the mayor said his goals align with the group’s mission. He said his new plan increased the projected number of affordable and workforce units preserved, created or supported annually from 675 units to 780 units , an increase of 15.5% from the previous target.
“Our goal is to provide thousands of units of affordable housing for individuals and families who make our city work,” he said.
Elder James Myles said many who elected Welch thought he would do more for them. Similar to Young, he raised two daughters here.
One daughter, a Pinellas County Schools administrator, had to move to Wimauma to find an affordable home. She, her husband and their 3-year-old have to wake up at 5:30 a.m. for the commute to St. Petersburg, where they work and send their daughter to daycare.
“A 3-year-old shouldn’t have to get up at that time every morning,” Myles said.
His other daughter is homeless after losing her housing voucher, unable to find a place cheap enough and forcing her to move in with other family. She works as an assistant manager at a small retail shop.
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“It seems like the ones who make this city run are the forgotten ones,” Myles said. “The ones who elected Welch are getting the short end of the stick.”