Part two: interview with St. Petersburg mayor-elect Ken Welch

Ken Welch is joined by wife Donna and daughters Kenya and Keonna before filing paperwork to run for mayor at St. Petersburg City Hall on Friday, Jan. 15. Daniel Figueroa IV/WMNF

Longtime Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch is days away from becoming St. Pete’s next mayor. In the second half of our interview, mayor-elect Ken Welch spoke about the issue of housing.

One of a handful of newly elected mayors, Welch was invited to the White House a few weeks ago. He met with President Biden, Vice President Harris, and senior officials to talk about the American Rescue Plan, the bipartisan infrastructure law and Build Back Better. While in D.C., he says he read about St. Pete City Council’s motion to explore rent control.

Exploring rent control

“I think we have the same goals,” Welch said. “And, you know, our approach is to look at every possible tool in the toolkit to preserve and develop truly affordable housing in St. Petersburg.”

Bipartisan infrastructure dollars, Welch says, could relieve pressure on the local budget. And notes that Biden’s Build Back Better plan, if passed, has money for affordable housing. But the mayor-elect recognizes that affordable housing construction isn’t keeping pace with luxury real estate and other solutions are needed. He’s looking into the legality of declaring a state of emergency for housing.

“The issue is number one, preemption from the state,” Welch said. “You know if we did it for, I think we can do it for a year, through a state of emergency. We just need to look at that thoroughly and make sure it can stand up. And then the question is, how do you apply that fairly?”

Welch says he plans on fully researching the motion to explore rent control. The St. Pete native agrees that the city needs stricter guidelines to curb rising housing costs.

Parameters are needed

“I heard the story of a disabled vet whose rent is being doubled,” Welch said. “Why are you going from $800 to $1600? You know, is it just because you can? I think some reasonable parameters make sense, but it’s got to be able to stand up to the legal test.”

His administration will have a high-level position dedicated to special projects and strategic initiatives, starting with housing. Welch says he’s excited to tackle these issues. Speaking with residents, Welch sees the city as more engaged than ever.

“The worst thing we could do is kick this can down the road and not deal with these issues,” Welch said. “And while we’ve got, you know, folks ready to go to work and have what could be some tough conversations, but actually craft our work based on the facts and science and data and not the crazy politics. I think folks are excited about that. And so am I.”

This week mayor-elect Ken Welch will be sworn in but all planned inaugural festivities are postponed due to COVID-19.\

Listen to the story here:

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