St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch has committed to introducing 8,000 affordable housing units by 2030.
The forthcoming Tampa Bay Rays stadium could potentially become one of St. Petersburg’s most extensive affordable housing initiatives. Alongside the proposed $1.3 billion baseball stadium, the city may gain 1,200 lower-cost housing units as part of the package.
These units will be split evenly, with half co-located at the ballpark site and the remainder dispersed throughout the city.
This initiative is a vital component of the broader $6.5 billion redevelopment effort targeting the 86-acre Historic Gas Plant District surrounding Tropicana Field.
The project, led by global real estate developer Hines, aims to help St. Petersburg tackle its affordable housing crisis. However, there remains uncertainty regarding whether this endeavor will adequately address the ever-increasing demand.
Hines CEO Michael Harrison emphasized Mayor Ken Welch’s insistence on incorporating more affordable housing, highlighting it as a “top priority.” The current plan includes 40% more affordable and workforce housing units than originally proposed.
Half of these units will be designated for individuals earning 80% or less of the area median income, while the other half will be available to those making 120% or less.
Additionally, there will be a minimum of 100 on-site senior housing units, offering an opportunity for residents who were displaced from the Gas Plant neighborhood during the Tropicana Field development to return, as stated by Harrison.
Hines will also contribute an extra $15 million to existing city-run housing programs, including homeownership initiatives.
According to Ashon Nesbitt, CEO of the Florida Housing Coalition, a Tallahassee-based nonprofit, the provision of 1,200 units is considered “significant.” Typically, affordable housing is constructed in smaller quantities, usually no more than 100 units at a time.
The availability of an 86-acre centrally located and publicly owned site is a rare opportunity for the city to develop affordable housing on a larger scale.
Still, “as big of a number as that is, the need is much, much greater,” Nesbitt said.
Over the past five years, the median rent in St. Petersburg has surged by 36%, according to data from the real estate analytics firm CoStar, currently averaging around $1,687 per month.
In Pinellas County, data from the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies reveals that 34% of households allocate more than a third of their income to housing costs.
Housing affordability emerged as a central theme during Mayor Welch’s election campaign. Subsequently, he has made a commitment to introduce 8,000 units of affordable housing by 2030.
The initial construction of affordable and workforce housing units in the Gas Plant District is slated to commence as early as 2027. However, the entire project is expected to span nearly two decades before reaching completion.
Developing affordable housing is a complex and time-consuming endeavor. Most developers heavily depend on various forms of public subsidies, tax incentives, and grants to make financially viable projects given the narrow profit margins.
Brett Green, President of Archway Partners, pointed out that many of these programs are highly competitive, making it uncertain to secure funding on the first attempt. Archway Partners is currently involved in developing three affordable housing projects in the Tampa Bay area.
“It does take time to gather the resources and get all the local governments on board,” he said.
Rising interest rates and escalating construction expenses may present added challenges to the project’s success. Even with an ideal outcome, not everyone expresses satisfaction with the proposed arrangement.
City Council member Richie Floyd finds the mayor’s proposal of a $500 million subsidy to Hines and the Rays “extremely hard to accept.” He questions whether the city could potentially construct more housing units by allocating those funds directly to affordable housing initiatives.
Dylan Dames, a local organizer affiliated with the group Faith in Florida, expresses concerns that the project may not sufficiently benefit the city’s most vulnerable residents.
The affordable housing segment will be tailored to individuals and families earning at least 20% less than the average income for St. Petersburg residents, which currently equates to approximately $60,812 for an individual or $86,875 for a family of four.
“To us, that does not represent poor people,” Dames said. “Maybe ‘New York poor’, but definitely not ‘Florida poor’.”
The details of the agreement remain uncertain until the City Council votes to approve it, likely by early next year.
Irrespective of the final decision, Chris Savino, vice president of the development company Framework Group, notes that the mayor has established a significant precedent by mandating affordable housing as a crucial component of the project.
“It’s a good step in the right direction because it shows developers what to expect if they want to build in the city,” he said.