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Protestors sleep outside St. Pete City Hall to draw rising rent awareness

St. Petersburg Tenants Union staged the 'sleep-in' as they call for the city to declare a housing emergency.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A few dozen people spent the night sleeping outside of St. Petersburg City Hall on Wednesday as they push for leaders to take action on rising rent in the city. 

The demonstration was organized by the St. Petersburg Tenants Union. 

In a news release, St. Petersburg Tenants Union organizer Jack Wallace wrote the effort was to "demand that the Welch administration and City Council declare a housing state of emergency once and for all and let the people vote on rent control."

"Tampa and Orange County have moved forward with declaring a state of emergency and will vote for rent control on their November ballots," he continued in his statement. "We need the same here in St. Pete, where rents are up 22.4% compared to last year."

Jenna Sierra was among the demonstrators on Wednesday, with the 'sleep-in' falling on the same day the lease on her old apartment expired. Now, she no longer lives in St. Pete. 

"I just went today and I gave my key back. It was sad," Sierra said. 

The student and service worker said she'd been living in a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate, but then her rent went up from $1,300 to $1,800, which was more than she could pay. 

So this week, she moved back home to Dover.

"I'm not alone," Sierra said. "All of my friends have some kind of advice for me because they just went through something else."

Susan Pomory is a retired school teacher and is worried about getting priced out of the city she has lived in her entire life. She said it's already happened to her son.

"My son, who works for the city of St. Petersburg Water Department, he cannot afford to live here, to rent, and that's a city worker job." she said. 

City leaders said on Wednesday the issue of affordable housing is a priority.

“Housing has been a fundamental priority for our administration since day one, and is one of our five Pillars for Progress," St. Pete Mayor Ken Welch said in a statement. "We are working diligently with City staff to identify and implement strategies to provide more affordable and workforce housing units in response to rising rents and homeownership costs." 

"Participants in the planned sleep-in at City Hall are exercising their First Amendment rights and are welcome to speak during public comment at Thursday's City Council meeting," Welch continued. "We have had conversations with the Tenants’ Union about this issue and appreciate their ongoing engagement.”

On Tuesday, the Pinellas County Commission gave the OK on a tenant bill of rights. St. Petersburg already has a tenant bill of rights, but the county one takes protections for renters a step further. 

10 Tampa Bay asked the city on Wednesday whether they will adopt the county one and they say they've not yet had any discussions about it. 

RELATED: No, there’s nothing stopping landlords from raising your rent as much as they want in Florida

RELATED: Pinellas County passes Tenants Bill of Rights

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