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    A Times Editorial

    Leader speaks up for hard-working people

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published October 24, 2002

    Largo Community Development director Ric Goss did a bold thing at this week's City Commission meeting: He stuck up for people who don't earn much money or have much influence -- something that happens too rarely in our local communities.

    The occasion was discussion of amendments to the city's community redevelopment plan. The amendments, which Goss supported, would allow higher densities in the downtown redevelopment area and permit the construction of more apartment complexes. Goss and many others in the redevelopment field believe that a key to reviving downtowns is to bring in new residents to live there and provide a market for downtown businesses.

    In Largo on Tuesday, representatives of the Clearwater-Largo Road Merchants Association showed up and raised some concerns about the amendments Goss proposed. This group has been aggressively working to improve the Clearwater-Largo Road corridor, which is marred by aging and poorly maintained commercial buildings and some ramshackle mobile home parks. But Tuesday, they seemed to be worried that brand-new apartment complexes could somehow set that effort back.

    They said they were concerned about density and the fact that new housing would be rental housing. They were worried about the kind of people who would live there.

    "Will they be quality people?" asked member Leon Floyd.

    That apparently was enough for Goss. He must have sensed the question's underlying discriminatory attitude toward renters -- that they are lower income and therefore somehow undesirable.

    "Low to moderate income is Largo," Goss declared in the meeting. "If you are saying you don't want low income, you don't want Largo."

    Goss pointed out that Largo, historically an agricultural community and now known for its vast acres of mobile home parks, has always been a place where people of low and moderate incomes live. In fact, he added, the new apartments and other improvements hoped for in the redevelopment district are in part intended to clean up the blight caused by weekly rental mobile home parks in the area.

    Goss' lecture was so effective that the merchants group gave its support for increasing densities.

    More often than not, apartment communities are occupied by hard-working people who simply do not earn enough money to buy homes. They are teachers, police officers, government employees, office clerks, restaurant workers and adult students. They have families. They need and deserve housing close to stores and schools, and served by good roads -- just like residents of condominiums and single-family homes.

    Goss did the right thing in reminding everyone of that.

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