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  1. St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg has a plan to tackle affordable housing. Here's what's new — and not new — about it.

ST. PETERSBURG — In an announcement that blended aspiration and branding, Mayor Rick Kriseman on Wednesday released what he called a comprehensive 10-year plan to address affordable housing.

The plan sets goals for the city to create or maintain affordable homes, as well as help low-income families stay in their homes, over the next decade starting in 2020. In all, Kriseman said, the plan will benefit 19,000 residents and amount to about 7,000 new or preserved homes.

"If we are to truly be that city of opportunity for all, it requires safe, decent housing that's affordable for all of our residents," said Kriseman at the announcement, which took place at Burlington Post, an 86-unit affordable 55+ apartment in Historic Kenwood.

But most of the mechanisms to reach the new targets were already under way, and Wednesday's announcement served primarily to tie existing disparate initiatives together under one banner, called "St. Petersburg's Housing Plan: For All, From All."

"Really what's new is we're synthesizing all the work we've been doing and setting goals today," said Rob Gerdes, the city's neighborhood affairs administrator.

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City leaders have focused on affordable housing since spring of 2018, Gerdes said, when the City Council held workshops on the issue. Since then, the mayor's office and City Council have been pushing a three-pronged solution to create more housing, keep low-income people in homes and change zoning rules.

That includes things like tax credits for developers who build affordable multi-family buildings, helping first-time home buyers with down payments, relaxing the rules on garage apartments and eliminating parking requirements that drive up apartment costs — all of which, the city hopes, will make homes more accessibly priced.

The housing plan is a tidy way to present all those initiatives in one cohesive package.

With the package comes some targets: City leaders hopes to help 3,200 homeowners fix outstanding code violations, enabling them to stay in their homes. They hope to see 300 new garage apartments or carriage houses by easing restrictions. They hope to help 500 families that earn up to 120 percent of the area's median income buy homes.

The biggest commitment is "construction and preservation of 2,400 affordable multi-family units" at an estimated cost of $60 million.

The number is ambitious, city officials say, because the city built half that number over the last decade for $21 million.

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Most of the $60 million was already accounted for before Wednesday's announcement. It includes $4 million from the federal and state governments, $15 million of Penny for Pinellas funds, $8.5 million in money the city expects to collect through its South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area. It also includes $20 million in "linkage fees," basically an impact fee on developers to offset new construction's effects on housing affordability. A study is under way to determine if linkage fees could help — the city expects results by September — after which, City Council could adopt the fee.

New money would come from a restructured fee that developers can pay to exceed square-footage limitations on property, which could raise $2.5 million, and $10 million in city-owned land that leaders commit to use to build affordable housing.

There are several ways the land component could come into play: in a straightforward example, the city could offer a developer land to build affordable homes. In a more complicated deal, the city could sell land to a developer at a discount, which would effectively subsidize affordable homes.

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City Council member Darden Rice, who is expected to run for mayor in 2021, said after the announcement on Wednesday that relying upon linkage fees for such a substantial portion of the city's affordable housing investment could be dangerous. She said it's unclear how much money the city would collect, and she doesn't have faith the state legislature will continue to let city charge the fees.

"I would like to be proven wrong, but I don't think impact fees are going to be as strong a leg of the tripod that we think it is," she said.

Kriseman also announced that half the homes to be built at Commerce Park, a development that was supposed to bring jobs to the 22nd Avenue S corridor and to be at the center of the economic revitalization of Midtown, will be designated as affordable. Housing of some kind has always been part of the Commcere Park vision. The city is retooling now after the developers blew a May 1 deadline to have the project finished; only one company has a temporary worksite permit to operate there now.

One other thing Kriseman hopes the affordable housing plan does is reprogram what people think about those who live in low- and middle-income homes. They are nurses, firefighters, retail workers and retirees.

"Folks who want to live the St. Pete dream, but can't find the right housing at the right price," Kriseman said.

Contact Josh Solomon at jsolomon@tampabay.com or (813) 909-4613. Follow @ByJoshSolomon.

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