A New Deal for St. Pete

New Deal St. Pete, featured

BY HOLLY KESTENIS, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – The south side community has talked for years about what it will take to empower change in their neighborhoods. A group of residents are taking those conversations one step further by creating a plan that deals in specifics and throws away the generalities that so often plague change.

The New Deal for St. Pete was created and although in its infant stage, it already has residents and community leaders talking.

Bro John New Deal, featured“We wanted to do things differently, we didn’t want politics as usual,” said Bro. John Muhammad, who is one of the minds behind The New Deal. He is also the president of the Childs Park Neighborhood Association and community organizer with Service Employees International Union Florida (SEIU). He wanted to help facilitate demands from residents for a community agenda and The New Deal for St. Pete is where they landed.

Jabaar Edmond New Deal, featuredJabaar Edmond, vice president of the Childs Park Neighborhood Association and Muhammad both are volunteers with The People’s Budget Review (PBR), a coalition of community activists, local business owners, neighborhood advocates, union members, and everyday people working to ensure that all residents have a voice in the decisions that affect the well being of our communities.

They, along with other volunteers, canvased south side neighborhoods and local events conducting surveys and spoke with several hundred people about what they feel they need, instead of relying on a few elected officials to decide for them.

The four main areas to focus on change that came from those efforts are affordable housing, more educational opportunities, creating a living wage for the entire city and investing in community wealth.

Affordable Housing

The New Deal calls for a removal of displacement practices through gentrification. When development takes over an area, the current practice usually finds homeowners and small businesses becoming displaced or priced out of their own neighborhoods.

“We want a plan that doesn’t displace people that are in those areas right now,” said Muhammad.

The New Deal is also in the visionary stage of other options such as a land trust, which provides opportunities for communities to build wealth and remain in their homes. Community land trusts are encouraged in areas dominated by low-to-moderate income because they provide the opportunity for homeowners to build equity and protects them from becoming over extended and cuts down on foreclosure rates.

With the common practice of a land trust’s board being composed of community residents, participants find there is more input by the community in decision-making in their area.

Education

Early childhood education is always a topic of conversation in any neighborhood, but Muhammad doesn’t feel it has ever really been presented as a city responsibility. The New Deal proposes that there be an increase in early education and mentorship programs and to also explore how those programs can work in conjunction with city recreational centers.

Another challenge is providing not only more options for students not planning on attending a traditional four-year university, but in setting up programs that will help certificate holders of a trade find employment.

“We’ve been moving them toward trade schools,” said Muhammad of the county’s initiative to empower employment. But, “we’re finding once they complete their term at schools like Pinellas Technical College (PTC) and come out with their brand new HVAC certificate, they’re not finding work.”

The New Deal calls for working with city contractors to set up and enhance apprenticeship programs where recent graduates can gain hands-on experience and become more employable in the industry.

City-wide Living Wage

The fight for minimum wage to increase to $15 an hour is also on the agenda. Although Mayor Kriseman passed a living wage policy that increases minimum wage in increments until it reaches the $15 an hour mark, it’s only for full-time city workers. The New Deal would call for moving toward $15 an hour with a set timeline and to include part time and temporary workers as well as contractors and sub-contractors.

Restorative justice recommendations are also part of the deal. Although the coalition hasn’t worked out all the details, they want an ordinance passed to ban the box across the entire city.

“When the box was banned, we celebrated and then we went to sleep,” Edmond said of the lack of follow-up with the program. “Well, they get a snap for that,” added Muhammad when discussing the rumor mill that only eight people have benefited from not having to disclose if they have been convicted of a crime on an city application.

The New Deal would propose compiling data on who has benefited and whether the program is truly working in the best interest of the majority or if it needs to be tweaked.

The New Deal also advocates for a universal community benefits agreement. This would pave the way for negotiations with developers that are bidding on city contracts to agree to hire within the south side demographic and pay a particular wage, or to grant a certain number of apprenticeship jobs to PTC certificate holders.

Community Wealth

Finally, developing financial empowerment and financial literacy is a must. The New Deal wants specific programs to be implemented that residents can attend and will give them knowledge in not only personal finances, but getting out of debt and how to run their businesses in a way that allows growth.

“Financially literate people don’t cash their checks at payday lenders that are charging you a ridiculous price,” said Muhammad.

And although many businesses south of Central Avenue are surviving, access to capital will help them thrive and participate in programs like the CRA that require businesses to match gifted funds.

“In our community, a lot of businesses are not financially literate,” said Edmond. “They just got into business because their mama was in business.”

Both Muhammad and Edmond hope to discuss their plans with the candidates running for mayor and city council to ascertain who they plan to back in upcoming elections. In fact, Mayor Kriseman has already voiced his support.

They also want to make it clear that this is not just a south side agenda, but that the entire city can benefit from the proposals being advanced in the New Deal.

If you’re looking to get involved, check out www.PBR2017.org. The PBR holds meetings every other Wednesday at 449 Central Ave, St. Petersburg. The next meeting is Aug. 9 starting at 6 p.m.

Recap

Preserve our communities

• No more displacement of residents through gentrification

• Greatly expand affordable housing and land trusts

• Make the heart of all economic development designed to bring capital into our communities, not extract the capital that exists

• Provide support for a community led plan for economic development and growth

Expand educational opportunity

• Convene a conference between the city, light industry and manufacturing, urban agriculture proponents, green job creators, and unions and community groups at the Pinellas Technical College to coordinate workplace development, succession and apprenticeship programs. Target economically distressed areas of the City for recruitment.

• Design and implement early education and mentorship programs in conjunction with City Rec centers.

Build community wealth

• Develop financial empowerment centers that assist residents in building their wealth through financial literacy, credit repair, fiscal planning and provide the opportunity through local financial institutions for low interest micro loans. Put the payday lenders out of business.

• Coordinate and assist in community and worker owned cooperatives, beginning with a community owned grocery co-op on the south side.

Make St. Pete a living wage city

• Pass a living wage ordinance with wages moving to $15 an hour over a short period of time for City contractors, temporary employees and part timers.

• Require that developers sign community benefit agreements within the City of St Pete with community organizations and institutions where development occurs, around wages and services to be provided to the community in question.

• Work towards restorative justice for all by banning the box on employment forms.

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