ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Construction cranes are filing the sky across the Sunshine City,

The city's new high-rise apartments and condos nearly all have one thing in common - they’re expensive.

“There’s a huge gap in affordable housing and housing that is more or less luxury…or high income,” said retiring St. Petersburg Neighborhood Affairs Administrator Mike Dove.

Units in the 'One St. Petersburg' project, scheduled to open later this year, start at $500,000.

And it’s not just downtown.

Those who live in the Venetian Mobile Home Court on Fourth Street have watched redevelopment spread their way.

Now their entire property will be demolished to make way for a new neighborhood.

“For lack of a better word, I’m kind of screwed,” said Alex Houget, who lives off disability and spent his life savings to buy a mobile home in the park two years ago. “I understand they want to make it a ‘ritzy ritz’ kind of place, but not everyone has the ability to live in theses plush accommodations."

Middle income concerns

Those in the middle income bracket are just as worried, Dove said.

"These are people who don’t qualify for our programs but can afford a $200,000 to $250,000 house, and that’s very difficult right now," he said. "The market is so hot.”

Debra Hussey, who recently moved to St. Petersburg, knows firsthand.

“It was very frustrating,” said Hussey, who after searching an entire year with her husband moved into a 776-square foot home off Fourth Street for $140,000. “I was a teacher and worked corporate for a while and I thought I could afford at least a little bigger than this."

Former city council member Karl Nurse also knows firsthand.

“I hear the struggles people have to buy housing and it’s almost impossible at this point,” said Nurse, who owns a local business with many of his employees earning near the city’s median income.

Some of his employees live as far away as Pasco County, where homes are more affordable.

“The challenge is how do we, between the combination of carrot sticks and innovation, build for the broad spectrum," he said.

Nurse championed more affordable housing during his time on the city council, helping to create a program foreclosing on abandoned lots and allowing non-profits to build new low-cost houses.

The city estimates as many as 20,000 people across St. Petersburg spend more than 30 percent of their income for housing.

Ongoing efforts

City officials are forming a committee that will examine ways to incentivize construction of new affordable units by loosening permitting restrictions on items such as the number of required parking spaces, which can significantly reduce the cost of big projects.

“Not everybody has two cars and not everyone wants a car,” Dove said.

St. Petersburg is also re-exploring the idea of inclusionary zoning, where new developments would be required to offer units at various price points, including a percentage considered affordable.

But officials say lower cost options are slowly becoming available. Burlington Place opened last year and Burlington Post is currently under construction.

Another builder is applying to build a 80-unit apartment building with help from tax credits offered by the city.

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