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Pinellas County workforce in mind as leaders consider housing affordability

County leaders presented the Board of County Commissioners with goals for addressing the housing crisis in the new year.

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — After a year of dealing with the far-reaching housing crisis, Pinellas County leaders addressed what needs to be accomplished in the years ahead.

At a work session Thursday morning, the Pinellas County Board of Commissioners listened to a presentation about housing trends over the last year and goals for 2023.

Most recently, the county introduced the Tenant Bill of Rights, which requires landlords to share tenant rights information, give advanced written notice of late fees and rent increases of 5% or more and also adds protections from discrimination based on income source.

The city of St. Petersburg is the only city to have opted out of the ordinance because it has its own Tenant Bill of Rights.

William Kilgore with the St. Petersburg Tenants Union said landlords would discriminate against people who received government assistance or housing vouchers. The Bill of Rights aims to stop that, but Kilgore said there are currently too many loopholes in St. Petersburg's version.

"We’re trying to get cleaned up at the moment," Kilgore said.

In looking at the county as a whole, Pinellas has unique challenges including a dense population in a county that's run out of land.

"There’s not a lot of fresh land so every time a new project comes in, most likely an old project, an old building will have to be removed," said Evan Johnson, the Planning Division Manager with Pinellas County.

Another big area of concern among county leaders is the workforce. Board members discussed the dwindling workforce because people can't afford to live in the county.

"They start to commute, but then they say, well I’ve got an opportunity here so I’ll stay close to home," said Commissioner Dave Eggers.

In November, the Pinellas County School District issued a request to develop the historic Tomlinson building into teacher and staff housing.

Associate Superintendent of Schools Clint Herbic described the plan as "an opportunity to take a building that really is underused and to turn it into something that can really benefit our employees."

Johnson hopes the peak of the crisis has come and gone and inventory will bounce back. He's also looking forward to pursuing more business and community involvement in finding a long-term solution.

"Making sure people understand this is not just a housing crisis, this is an economic development issue. If we don’t provide housing that is affordable for professionals and manufacturing workers, then we’re going to lose those businesses. In the long term that’s going to affect all of us in Pinellas County," Johnson said.

Last, year the county launched Homes For Pinellas, a website with resources and information about adding affordable housing to the community.

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