St. Petersburg considers putting rent controls to voters following residents' 'sleep-in'
Council members voted to draft a resolution declaring a "housing emergency" in the city, the first step toward putting the issue of rent control to voters.
St. Petersburg moved closer to putting rent controls on the ballot this November, despite lingering legal questions.
In a 4-3 vote, council members passed a motion to draft a resolution declaring a "housing emergency" in the city, the first step toward putting the issue of rent control to voters.
Florida law blocks local governments from imposing rent controls unless the governing body declares a housing emergency and the measure is approved by voters. If passed, rent controls would expire in one year's time.
To lobby for action, two dozen residents slept outside of city hall in part of a “sleep-in” demonstration organized by the St. Pete Tenants Union.
In the morning, groggy renters pleaded with city council members to give renters the opportunity to vote on price controls.
Nick Carey asked city leaders to have the courage to let renters decide.
"Residents of this city every day are having to make decisions about what bills they pay and what they don't," Carey said. "We are more than qualified to make a decision about the risk and benefits of rent control."
Karla Correa, an organizer of the tenants union, urged city leaders to act quickly ahead of the Aug. 16 deadline for ballot measures by the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections.
"This is a very tight timeline," Correa said. "But it must be done because when there's a will, there's a way."
Bryce Springfield, 19, noted the legal obstacles that stymied progress on rental controls earlier this year.
In February, a prior attempt to declare a housing emergency was voted down by Housing, Land Use and Transportation committee members, which includes chair Gina Driscoll, Brandi Gabbard, Ed Montanari and Richie Floyd.
Since then, Orange County and the City of Tampa have also considered ordinances to put rent control on the ballot.
“It’s too late for us to be leaders on this now, but we can follow suit,” Springfield said.
After hearing overwhelming testimony from renters, council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders proposed a motion to prepare a resolution on rent controls for a vote no later than Aug. 11.
The new business item won a second motion by council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman.
Before passing in a 4-3 vote, concerns over procedural missteps and legal ramifications were discussed.
City attorney Jackie Kovilaritch said that Florida's rent control statute requires an ordinance to be passed, rather than a resolution.
Council members Gina Driscoll and Ed Montanari were wary of backlash from the state and making the city vulnerable to lawsuits.
"We've got to be bold," Driscoll said. "But we still have to be responsible."
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.