Many young people drawn here can barely afford it.
By CRISTINA SILVA, Times staff writer
Published July 29, 2007
Singles and young families can shop at a place like the Saturday Morning Market - if they have enough left after the mortgage or rent. Members of the band Urban Gypsies spiced up a market in October.
[Lara Cerri | Times]
[Lara Cerri | Times]
Clara Lawton and her mother Susan Lawton, of st. Petersburg, play and dance while listening to the featured band, Urban Gypsies, at the Saturday Market (10/07/06).
Age-old reputations be darned- these days, St. Petersburg is young, hip, modern.
Witness the hipsters spilling out of the Emerald Bar on a Saturday night or the young urbanites swirling their glasses of rioja at the Salvador Dali Museum's next wine tasting. Downtown is abuzz with life. Even the New York Times says St. Pete has got it going on.
But young people attracted by the city's newfound image may be put off by the cost of living here.
The area's growing popularity combined with a scarcity of land has driven up real estate prices, and young professionals say they are being priced out of desirable neighborhoods or forced to live with roommates.
Make no mistake: The housing boom has pretty much gone bust, as it has across the country. But prices haven't gone down enough for many young workers, who city officials say are essential to St. Petersburg's ongoing renaissance.
"If we want to ... be able to provide that workforce to Raymond James or to Bright House, we have to have places for these people to live," said City Council member Rene Flowers, head of the city's housing committee.
"I am glad I already own my home. Otherwise I would not be able to afford it," she said.
- The median sales price for a single-family home in the city soared from $78,000 in 1995 to $225,500 in 2006, according to the Florida Sales Report.
- Fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment climbed from $541 in 1995 to $817 in 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
- Pinellas County lost 20,000 affordable housing units in the past six years, most of which were apartments that were converted to condos.
The result is that young families and singles are feeling the financial constraints of living in an up-and-coming city.
"It is a real challenge," said Askia Muhammad Aquil, president of the nonprofit agency St. Petersburg Neighborhood Housing Services. "We are finding that families with higher income levels than we have historically seen are seeking out our assistance."
HUD defines affordable housing as costing 30 percent of a household's gross income. City records show that individuals with moderate incomes or above are spending a greater portion of their income on housing.
Young professionals in the area say they have no desire to live elsewhere, but worry that they will soon have no other choice.
"I love that downtown has had a rebirth, but I'm always worried it's going to eventually turn into Palm Beach or a Miami, where the people who work there can't afford to live there," said Crane Gerstner, 28, a contracts negotiator who pays $750 for his share of a two-bedroom condo he splits with a roommate.
Gerstner would rather live alone but can't afford to live in downtown without sharing the rent.
"To have to carry $1,500 a month by myself would be crazy," he said. "I guess I could buy a house in Brandon or in Pasco, but why would I want to live there?"
Johnathon M. Stanton, director of St. Pete Young Professionals, a networking group, said the area's sunny weather and growing social scene are attractive to young workers.
"The only negative is if you do recruit someone from somewhere else, where can they live?" said Stanton, also president of New Advantage Corp. "Can they buy a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house, 1,800 square feet, and afford it?"
Apparently, the answer is no. Many of his employees have moved to Lutz or Holiday in recent years because they are fed up with St. Petersburg's market, he said.
The city does have a five-year plan to address housing concerns, which includes offering incentives to developers to build more affordable units, said Thomas deYampert, manager of housing and community development.
The city also helps cover down payments and closing costs for qualified applicants, as well as home repairs.
But an easier solution might lie in having buyers and renters re-evaluate their expectations, deYampert said.
"It's all perception," deYampert said. "For a lot of years, first-time home buyers have been able to buy new homes, dirt was so cheap, construction hadn't escalated. Now, people think a starter home should be a brand-new home, and that is not necessarily true."
Cristina Silva can be reached at 727 893-8846 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A landlord's price
Housing costs* in St. Petersburg compared with those of similar-sized cities in the United States.
|Population ||Apartment cost |
|St. Louis ||348,189 ||$670 |
|Baton Rouge ||227, 818 ||$749 |
|Orlando ||185,951 ||$814 |
|St. Petersburg ||249,090 ||$817 |
|St. Paul ||287,151 ||$858 |
|Jersey City ||240,055 ||$1,154 |
*Fair market rate for two bedrooms in 2007
Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and U.S. Census data.
[Last modified July 29, 2007, 00:52:38]
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