“The foundation of our quality of life in St. Petersburg is housing, and our next mayor will have to answer to working families struggling to hang on,” said Bro. John Muhammad.
BY BRO. JOHN MUHAMMAD, Pinellas County Lead Organizer, Florida Rising
ST. PETERSBURG — Our city faces a crucial test next Tuesday, Nov. 2, when voters will cast their ballots for the next mayor of St. Petersburg. The new mayor will confront several crises that are unprecedented in our lifetime as residents are being pushed to the breaking point.
The COVID-19 pandemic has laid-bare deep divides in the fabric of our community, and the outcry for access to affordable housing has reached a fever pitch.
This is about all the people in St. Petersburg who will never stay at the luxurious condos downtown or book a room at one of our boutique hotels. For them, these new buildings are casting an ominous shadow over their ability to maintain stable residency in the city they have called home all their lives.
The foundation of our quality of life in St. Petersburg is housing, and our next mayor will have to answer to working families struggling to hang on.
As a longtime resident of this city, I’ve witnessed Black, Brown and underrepresented communities swept aside, ignored, and displaced as elected officials prioritized developers’ profits over everyday people. These historical disparities and their impacts can be found everywhere we look, and they must be addressed as the emergencies they truly are.
In the last year, rent in Tampa Bay increased more than in any other metropolitan area in the country. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 6,200 residents in Pinellas County have been evicted from their homes amid the worst public health crisis we have experienced in our lifetime.
Even though Florida’s minimum wage was recently raised to $10 an hour, a living wage is still out of reach for too many. This means the writing is on the wall for thousands of St. Petersburg families that face insurmountable odds when it comes to paying for a one-bedroom apartment.
Housing security gives our people the foundation to build a family and a life founded on stability, safety and community. We know what the solution is. Housing must be a human right, not just a commodity for unscrupulous landlords and developers who see an opportunity to make millions by kicking poor people out of their homes.
We need to declare a state of emergency in St. Petersburg that will allow residents to vote on emergency rent control measures and an eviction moratorium to stop our communities from being displaced.
We must elect leaders who will make these sorts of tough decisions to sustain and build our communities, and we need fundamental strategies to help us do more than just return to normal after the pandemic. Our mayor must be willing to stand up to the powerful interests in our city and understand he represents all of St. Petersburg’s people.
That’s why this election is so crucial, and we must work diligently to make sure our people make their voices heard.
Some candidates running are the ones who stand to gain from exorbitant rent increases. Others, like Ken Welch, are already talking about the need to focus on housing solutions for individuals making less than $19 an hour.
We need economic growth but not at the cost of our communities. We must not forget the tragic history of people being displaced along economic and racial lines growing up in the Gas Plant district, which is once again in the sights of developers eyeing the future of Tropicana Field. Our families, businesses, and churches were uprooted and are now scattered after promises were made and the Trop was built.
Two weeks ago, I attended an emergency meeting about rising rents, with more than 150 residents feeling that same despair of a community being displaced. We asked people if housing should be a right in St. Petersburg, and more than 97 percent agreed that it should. Residents were unanimous that we are in the middle of a housing crisis, and 98 percent agreed we should declare a state of emergency to deal with it.
On Tuesday, Nov. 2, we have the opportunity to elect the first Black mayor of St. Petersburg in a historical moment of challenge and opportunity. It’s up to us to elect a leader who can speak for our community and will have the experience and wisdom necessary to preserve it.
We don’t want to go back to normal after COVID, and we don’t want to be displaced from our homes. We want a St. Petersburg that works for all of us. To realize it, we must work for it, and we must VOTE FOR IT!