The New Deal for St. Pete summit

Bro. John Muhammad



ST. PETERSBURG – Last month, a summit to glean ideas from the community for The New Deal for St. Pete initiative was well attended with elected officials, clergy and community members from all walks of life coming together for a meeting of the minds.

Held at Pinellas Technical College (PTC), Bro. John Muhammad gave some background on where the New Deal came from to get the room up to speed. It was birthed from approximately 1,400 surveys from the People’s Budget Review, which is a coalition of community activist, 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 the community.

These volunteers canvased south side neighborhoods and local events conducting surveys and spoke with hundreds of people about what they feel they need instead of relying on a few elected officials to decide for them.

The four main points of progress that came from the surveys were affordable housing, more educational opportunities, creating a living wage for the entire city and investing in community wealth.

“We need a transformative approach because the small incremental approach is great, but what we need is something more transformative and something more robust,” said Muhammad.

The early morning summit was held to review the points of progress and get feedback to make sure they were on the right track. The room was broken up into four groups with each one tackling the four points. A note taker in each group took fastidious notes and those comments will be shared with the community.

New Deal Meeting, featured

“We’re going to print it up and take it out as a campaign,” said Muhammad.  “You know everybody’s got their campaign lit; well, The New Deal for St. Pete is our campaign.”

On the affordable housing point of progress, Larry Newsome from the Sunshine City Renaissance group suggests utilizing funds from the Community Redevelopment Area (CRA). Although the CRA has affordable housing dollars allocated, they are minuscule.

Winnie Foster brought up the village concept in which affordable housing is built around different demographics such as seniors or families with common dining areas and small shops. She feels it has potential and should be discussed.

On the point of more educational opportunities, City Council Member Darden Rice said a conversation with the city, the School Board, big business and learning institutions such as PTC, St. Petersburg College and the University of South Florida needs to take place.

Rice feels these institutions need to offer courses that will train students to be ready for the workforce as soon as they graduate by marrying people with the skill sets employers need.

Ameta Bowers thinks the city needs more summer programs for children to help them acquire skills that will help them obtain jobs in the future.

Kevin Jackson is a proponent of hiring halls, which are organizations, usually under the auspices of a labor union that has the responsibility of furnishing new recruits for employers who have a collective bargaining agreement with the union.

Sade Reed explained that as a teenager her parents taught her skills that enabled her to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people, but acknowledges not enough young adults have that opportunity.

Gloria Campbell chimed in saying that teaching our children “soft skills” such as how to communicate with their boss and coworkers and how to think critically is something that can be taught outside of school and the home.

She suggested programs be conducted in community centers, union halls, church, before and after school programs and even at athletic and cheerleading practices.

“To me, we need to get with the city and discuss how to make that work,” said Campbell. “We don’t have to rely on public schools.”

On building community wealth, the subject of cooperatives was moved to the forefront.

Chuck Terzian mentioned worker co-ops where workers own part of the business. They hire and decided who will manage the group. He said it changes the dynamic of the workplace when everyone is invested.

Terzian also mentioned living co-ops where people live together and share resources. Some of these co-ops participate in group meals once a week, share groceries and buy in bulk. He cited one such model in Chicago that goes for $500 a month including food and is in a great neighborhood.

Dick Pierce wants to encourage new and local businesses with assistance and training through organizations such as the St. Pete Greenhouse, the Ice House program and the Tampa Bay Black Business Investment Corporation.

However, Faye Watson said she has spoken with individuals who do not have the correct licensees or even pay taxes. These folks will not feel comfortable going to a city entity for assistance.

“Until we begin to look at the dynamics of how people think, we cannot reach them,” said Watson. “When they run their business under the shade tree or in secret, they have fear that disclosing information that will get them in trouble.”

Her idea is to create a vision center funded by community resources where people can be trained and also feel comfortable learning how to make their underground business legitimate.

When discussing what a livable wage looks like, Delphine Brown said $15 an hour is not it. She holds that if a person on assistance starts to make $15 an hour, all of their resources will be cut off such as subsidized housing and childcare, food stamps and healthcare.

“So this raise I got is being eaten up by the loss of other resources,” said Brown, who feels minimum wage should be raised to $20 an hour with an average of $25. “Childcare in itself is eating paychecks. People are paying $10,000 to $12,000 a year on childcare.”

Leroy Howard agreed that $15 isn’t a livable wage, but feels youths will not aspire to higher education when they could get a job at McDonald’s paying the same as many college graduates living in Florida.

Janet Michelle said it’s the city’s responsibility to bring in employers that pay livable wages. She feels city officials should be out actively recruiting companies that can come in and pay a decent wage so that residents don’t have to commute to other cities such as Tampa or Orlando.

So what about the mom and pop businesses?

Recognizing that a minimum wage of $15 an hour could take a small business out of contention in terms of affordability, Attorney Michelle Ligion suggests the city needs to be more specific about the minimum wage when recruiting companies into the market.

“Use it as an incentive,” Ligion said, stating that an affidavit should be signed to the effect that the companies would agree to the published wage if they receive, for example, an offset on taxes for two years.

Ligion said the two companies brought in to the 22nd Street Corridor were brought in based on a promise to hire people from the area, but the living wage piece was not added.

Muhammad wrapped up the session and collected the notes from each group.

“The solution is simple but the work is hard,” he said but insists that the community is not as far apart in thought as many may think.

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