As the cost of residential life in Gulfport has skyrocketed in recent years, can city officials bring about anything resembling rent control?
Maybe – but even if they decide that they want to, it’s a long road to get there.
At a special workshop meeting Oct. 20, the City Council heard a long list of obstacles that would have to be overcome, including the need for a study to prove that there is a “housing emergency” and make way for a voter referendum.
A referendum is required for any kind of rent control, City Manager Jim O’Reilly told the council, and even if it passes it would only be good for one year. The way the calendar is set up right now, such a vote would likely not take place until November of 2023 because of the due diligence that is required in advance and the deadlines set by election officials in Pinellas County.
It was noted more than once during the discussion that the two largest cities in the region, Tampa and St. Petersburg, explored these options but ultimately declined to move forward.
Council consensus at the end of the discussion was for O’Reilly to reach out to Forward Pinellas and inquire about whether that organization has conducted any studies similar to what is needed here.
In the back of the councilmembers’ minds is cost: Such a study could cost $20,000 or more and still fail to confirm that a housing emergency exists in Gulfport.
What exactly constitutes an emergency?
Perhaps the most obvious answer to that question right now would be 100 or so miles south of here, in areas that devastated by Hurricane Ian, where a sufficient amount of suitable housing may not exist. Whether the emergency threshold can be met solely because of high rent remains to be seen.
“The city council would need to make and recite in the proposed ordinance its findings supported via (available verified documentable sources or a commissioned study) establishing the existence in fact of a housing emergency so grave as to constitute a serious menace to the general public and that such controls are necessary and proper to eliminate such grave housing emergency,” city staff wrote in a memo, which essentially restates the wording of the applicable state statute.
A number of citizens took advantage of the opportunity for public comment, and several of them voiced their support for doing a study to find out if the issue is serious enough to make a referendum possible. Others pointed out that while their efforts might be noble, government-mandated rent stabilization has never proven to actually work as intended.
Either way, it will not be accomplished in the next few weeks. And with the way inflation has been raging over the past year, it is impossible to predict what the market will look like a year from now when a referendum might take place.