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More and more people are finding themselves living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region. In some places, rent has doubled. The cost of everyday goods — like gas and groceries — keeps creeping up. All the while, wages lag behind and the affordable housing crisis looms. Amid cost-of-living increases, WUSF is focused on documenting how people are making ends meet.

St. Petersburg greenlights a rental assistance program for city employees

St Petersburg City Council Brandi Gabbard
Gabriella Paul
WUSF Public Media
At a July 7 meeting, city council member Brandi Gabbard reads a resolution proposing an employee rental assistance program.

To qualify, city employees must be hired on a full-time basis, hold a position with a residency requirement and earn no more than $48,000 a year.

At a meeting on Thursday, city council members unanimously voted to spend $1.47 million on a new employee rental assistance program.

The program would provide city employees with a monthly $500 stipend for up to two years to offset the cost of rent.

Council member Brandi Gabbard said she expects to see the program included in the mayor's draft budget for FY2023.

To qualify, city employees must be hired on a full-time basis, hold a position with a residency requirement and earn no more than $48,000 a year.

Around 250 employees in more than 20 city positions could qualify for the assistance, according to research shared with the Housing, Land Use and Transportation Committee last month.

The average annual income among these employees is $36,702.

That means to rent an apartment without being cost-burdened — or what the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development considers paying more than 30% of your income toward housing — city employees should pay no more than around $900 a month for rent.

In St. Petersburg, the average median rental is approximately $1,500.

Gabbard said the program is designed to help bridge that gap.

The other piece of the program is increasing financial literacy among renters in the community; applicants will be required to complete a "financial fitness course."

City council chair Gina Driscoll said the idea behind the course requirement is to offer city employees the tools they need in an "exchange" format to be in a better financial position in two years — perhaps, in a position to purchase a home.

"There's so much dignity in that," she said. "It's not a handout."

At a committee meeting last month, council member Richie Floyd was apprehensive about including a course requirement that was "too cumbersome."

He proposed an "hour back" program that grants city employees paid time to use toward completing the extra course requirements.

Gabbard, who chairs the committee overseeing the program, said council members are mindful to avoid creating an additional hurdle for renters.

She said the Housing, Land Use, and Transportation Committee plans to "hash out" the details of the financial course requirements, including selecting a vendor, before the start of the city's next fiscal year.

Before then, Driscoll said the city will work to notify employees who may be eligible for the new rental assistance.

"My hope is that we have the qualified employees ready to go by Oct. 1, so that we can roll right into that program as soon as the funding is available," she said.

City council members plan to reconvene in May 2023 for an annual update on the new rental assistance program and discuss the possibility of a piggyback program to provide employees with down-payment assistance.

Gabriella Paul covers the stories of people living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region for WUSF. She's also a Report for America corps member. Here’s how you can share your story with her.

I tell stories about living paycheck to paycheck for public radio at WUSF News. I’m also a corps member of Report For America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.