By Daniel Figueroa IV
October 21, 2021
On Thursday, St. Petersburg became the first city in Florida to implement a new law allowing local governments to streamline the process for approving affordable housing developments.
HB1339 was passed during the 2020 Legislative Session and took effect in July of that year. The bill, now a law, gives local governments the authority to create a process to “approve development of affordable housing on any parcel zoned for residential, commercial, or industrial use.” Essentially, it allows those developments to circumvent the rezoning process if the application meets certain characteristics and a governing board decides it’s compatible with the current neighborhood.
“You’re truly leading the state,” Sean King with Habitat for Humanity said during the Oct. 14 City Council meeting. “I’m already having conversations with other municipalities within our county. You’re literally the first in the state to dp this. We’re hopeful this will be another tool in the affordable housing toolbox.”
Developers can now apply to build affordable housing on St. Pete lands zoned Neighborhood Suburban, Neighborhood Traditional, Industrial Suburban and Industrial Traditional.
Under the new rules, St. Pete will accept affordable housing applications in Neighborhood Suburban and Traditional areas if there’s a minimum of 1 acre and it has a minimum of 20 units. For Industrial Suburban and Traditional, the requirements are 5 acres in size with a minimum of 60 units.
Both neighborhood and industrial areas would require rent or sale prices to be at or below 120% of the area median income. Industrial areas have a few more criteria like completing an environmental report and analysis of the surrounding industry.
Rob Gerdes, the city’s neighborhood affairs administrator, told Council members the move’s intent is important as the city faces tough housing choices.
“It identifies that housing affordability continues to be an important issue and that there are certain circumstances where the land development regulations as they exist could be an impediment to affordable housing,” he said.
Tampa Bay has some of the fastest-rising rents in the country, according to national real estate data company CoStar Group. Council member Brandi Gabbard was part of the unanimous approval, but she had previously expressed concern over creating housing extremes.
“That we become a city of haves and have nots because there’s nowhere for the middle income to be,” she said during a September meeting. “That’s my greatest fear.”
William Kilgore of the St. Petersburg Tenant’s Union said more affordable housing doesn’t necessarily mean more access to housing. He said the city needs to do more to protect renters.
“If City Council actually had the best interests of the people in mind, they would take immediate action to protect tenants, prevent displacement, control rents and rein in greedy profiteers,” Kilgore told Florida Politics.
The Council of Neighborhood Associations pushed back on some of the changes over concerns of neighborhood degradation. But Joe Farrell of the Pinellas Country Realtors Organization said change is needed.
“At some point, people are going to have to make uncomfortable decisions about where they want to build things if we’re going to get out of the affordability hole we’re in,” he said.