St. Pete activist group hosts community event to discuss housing justice

rent housing
St. Pete residents post "save our city" on City Hall. By Arielle Stevenson/WMNF News.

The St. Petersburg housing activist group known as the People’s Council is hosting a community event Wednesday evening to discuss housing affordability, and a growing movement for housing justice across Florida. The event comes as residents across Tampa Bay continue to face surging housing costs, with limited relief from the city and state government. 

Karla Correa is a local activist and tenant organizer with the St. Pete Tenants Union, which is part of the People’s Council. She says tonight’s event, located at Allendale United Methodist Church, will focus on updating local residents on recent progress made to address housing insecurity and surging housing costs in St. Pete. 

As it stands, Correa says, the economic situation for many local residents isn’t getting better. “We’re not seeing enough action from the city. We’re not seeing relief,” said Correa, a former union organizer. “People are still getting insane rent hikes. People are still getting evicted left and right. You know, we’re seeing people like, literally die from evictions, actively become homeless.”

Action from the city

Community advocates with the People’s Council, like activist Aaron Dietrich and Brother John Muhammad of One Community St. Pete have met with St. Pete Mayor Ken Welch to discuss community-backed initiatives to address the ongoing housing crisis. Welch has named housing a priority of his administration, as residents continue to face economic hardship. A recent study from the Harvard Kennedy School found that nearly one-half of renters and a quarter of homeowners in St. Pete are cost-burdened, meaning they spend 30% or more of their income on housing. 

Last month, the city announced they were allocating $34 million additional dollars in American Rescue Plan funds to go towards affordable housing initiatives, less than one month after over one hundred community members stood outside City Hall to demand immediadate action to address evictions and housing costs. That also came after St. Pete City Council shot down a proposal for rent control, and refused to declare a housing state of emergency pushed for by the People’s Council and championed by council member Richie Floyd.

Following the money

As local activists have noted, both Welch and most members of St. Pete City Council – save, for council member Floyd – have taken money from real estate groups and developers. Council member Brandi Gabbard, who chairs the city’s Housing, Land Use, and Transportation Committee, works in real estate and formerly served as president for the Pinellas Realtors Organization. That’s a local affiliate of the National Association of Realtors, which opposes rent control as an “infringement” upon private property rights.

Local activist Correa says the funding that elected officials receive from the real estate industry and developers during campaigns undoubtedly affects their willingness to go along with housing initiatives, like rent control, proposed by the People’s Council. “We’re kind of threatening the industry that is directly funding them,” said Correa. “They’re not going to make this decision to enact a state of emergency if it’s going to hurt the profits of landlords — unless there’s a mass movement of people fighting for it.”

A growing grassroots movement

The People’s Council on Wednesday plans to offer a legislative update on housing out of the state legislature, initiatives proposed on a city level – such as legal support for tenants facing eviction – as well as time for discussion, as the group has emphasized in past events to encourage active participation. In an effort to enhance motivation for what can be accomplished collectively, Correa says the group will also be underscoring what she describes as a growing grassroots movement for housing justice statewide.

“We’re seeing a lot of movement in Miami, Orlando. Just yesterday, one of their county commissioners [in Orange County] brought the issue of rent control up,” said Correa. “And now the county is commissioning a study to basically prove that we are in fact in a housing emergency.”

Under Florida law, imposing rent control is prohibited, unless a housing state of emergency is called. With that declaration, the enactment of rent control could be added to the ballot for a vote.

Powered by the people

Tonight’s community event in St. Pete, open to the public, will take place at Allendale United Methodist Church, at 6 PM. It is expected to last two hours. If past events organized by the group are any indication, more than one hundred community members are expected to show.

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