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This city program wants to make living in St. Pete more affordable | Editorial

When about 40 percent of city households are spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, something has to change.
Couple, Lewis Bryan, 36, (back left) and Amber Eckloff, 33, pose for a portrait with their children, (From left) D'Angelo Eckloff, 14, Rasmus Bryan, 4, Ramiro Bryan, 10, Lothario Bryan, 6, and Alonzo Bailey, 17. The family has been living at the Bayway Inn on 34th St S. Friday, Aug. 30, 2019 in St. Petersburg.  [MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE   |   TIMES  |  Tampa Bay Times]
Couple, Lewis Bryan, 36, (back left) and Amber Eckloff, 33, pose for a portrait with their children, (From left) D'Angelo Eckloff, 14, Rasmus Bryan, 4, Ramiro Bryan, 10, Lothario Bryan, 6, and Alonzo Bailey, 17. The family has been living at the Bayway Inn on 34th St S. Friday, Aug. 30, 2019 in St. Petersburg. [MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | TIMES | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Sep. 20, 2019

There’s a lot to like in the city of St. Petersburg’s 10-year affordable housing plan, which offers a multifaceted approach to the difficult challenge of finding housing within a reasonable price range. About 40 percent of households are spending more than 30 percent of their income toward housing in the city. Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration has embarked on an ambitious effort involving public land, sensible zoning changes and a proposed development fee that could make a substantial difference.

The number of affordable housing projects proposed in the next 10 years would be an increase of about 75 percent from those completed in the prior decade. The effort includes supporting or facilitating the construction of 2,400 multi-family units, 300 accessory units such as garage apartments or carriage houses, and helping 3,200 single-family homeowners stay in their homes. The city plans to hit these targets through a variety of methods, such as allowing multi-family development in the form of duplexes and triplexes in some traditional single-family corridors and easing some requirements for development, such as the number of parking spaces.

Affordable housing is an issue from Tallahassee to Tampa Bay, and it comes up regularly in the campaigns for St. Petersburg City Council. A study released in June from the National Low Income Housing Coalition found an employee earning Florida’s minimum hourly wage, $8.46, would need to work 108 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom apartment. As the Florida Legislature continues to divert money meant for affordable housing to other uses, local governments are increasing their efforts. For example, the city of Tampa plans to build 75 new affordable homes in East Tampa and help create affordable rental units. And millions from the Penny for Pinellas will be spent on affordable housing initiatives over the next decade.

St. Petersburg’s 10-year plan is a work in progress. A third of the $60 million of funding earmarked for the development of 2,400 multi-family units would come from a new fee on new construction that has yet to be approved by the City Council. The linkage fee could be as much as $1 per square foot of development and would apply to both residential and commercial development. But the details are still being worked out, and the City Council is expected to consider the fee next spring.

St. Petersburg’s affordable housing effort also is a public education campaign of sorts. Affordable housing wears many faces, the city’s promotional flyer shows. A resident who qualifies for affordable housing, anyone making up to 120 percent of the area’s median income, or about $56,000 annually for a single person to more than $80,000 for a family of four, could be a part-time retail worker, a retiree, a nurse or a police officer. Educating residents and erasing the stigma around the term is an important goal.

When about 40 percent of city households are spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, something has to change. The city’s 10-year affordable housing plans offers a promising approach with a timeline and pathway to provide significant help. But there are key decisions left to be made, and this will be a long-term challenge for St. Petersburg and the entire Tampa Bay region.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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