With soaring home prices and fast-rising rents, St. Petersburg continues to face a housing affordability crisis along with other urban areas in Florida. It’s also clear there is no one solution to this formidable challenge. It’s going to take a variety of approaches and a sustained effort to ensure all of our residents can still afford to live in the city where they grew up, went to school, raise their families and go to work.
That is why I am excited about a proposal to build more than 300 workforce housing units on the site formerly occupied by the Raytheon defense firm. The Clearwater-based Porter Development LLC purchased the 29-acre site in 2021, and its latest vision for the property would provide much-needed housing for workers such as firefighters, teachers and hospital employees.
This development, which would be in my City Council district, would be among the first to take advantage of an effort to enable more land to be used to build housing that is affordable. A 2020 state law enabled local governments to allow affordable housing on property that is zoned for industrial use, like this site. The state law was tweaked last year to require at least 10% of the units in those situations to be affordable and income-restricted. I commend St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch and the City Council for reasonably increasing that requirement to 30% of the units.
The Porter Development proposal meets that 30% city requirement for workforce housing, with more than 300 workforce units included in a development that would have more than 1,000 units and be built in phases. Half of those workforce units would be for renters making less than 80% of the area median income, and the other half would be for those making less than 120% of area median income. This proposal gives us an opportunity to add density on land that has set idle for years, without affecting the character of our neighborhoods.
It is understandable some residents are concerned about the proposal’s potential impact on our community. But there are industrial uses — imagine a large warehouse with lots of delivery trucks — that would be far less desirable. And before the City Council votes on this plan, the city will ensure we have the infrastructure in place to accommodate the additional residents.
This project is just one example of how St. Petersburg is looking for opportunities to use property zoned for industrial use to add housing that is affordable. That is a smart approach, and we have to find the sweet spot where we use some of this land to add affordable housing without taking away opportunities to add jobs.
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I also support our efforts in St. Petersburg to make it easier to add garage apartments and other alternative dwelling units in more neighborhoods. And I support allowing duplexes or quadplexes along well-traveled corridors in particular areas.
What I do not support is a one-size-fits-all approach to meeting a challenge as complicated as housing affordability. For example, I would not support allowing duplexes or quadplexes in every neighborhood with single-family homes. One of the qualities that makes St. Petersburg unique is the character of our neighborhoods, and we should continue to be thoughtful about how we add more housing that is affordable while preserving the qualities that make our city such a desirable place to live.
St. Petersburg is a special place that is welcoming to everyone, and we are committed to adding more housing that is affordable for working families. That will require us to continue to be creative and to provide multiple options — like supporting efforts such as Porter Development’s to build workforce housing on under-used, industrial-zoned land.
Copley Gerdes was elected to the St. Petersburg City Council in 2021 and represents District 1, which covers much of west St. Petersburg.