A proposal by the city of St. Pete to purchase Grace Connection Church, 635 64th St. S., and replace it with low-income housing has some neighborhood residents in a frenzy to prevent the sale.
At the Tuesday, April 23, meeting at the church, city officials explained the process of potentially buying the church and what that would mean for local residents.
“We have an issue with affordable housing here in St. Petersburg,” said City Councilmember, Charlie Gerdes. “There are some boats that are struggling, and by boats, I mean your fellow citizens.”
The proposal, if approved by the city at the next council meeting on May 16, would mean tearing down the church and accompanying buildings and building up to 86 affordable housing units on the five-acre property.
Gulfport City Councilmember Paul Ray also attended the packed meeting. Ray represents Gulfport’s Ward 3, an area of the city directly across the street from the proposed project site. Ray said that he is planning to sit down with Gerdes to discuss what this project will mean for Gulfport.
“I live five blocks from the proposed site,” Ray told the Gabber after the meeting. “I am a little concerned to see how this could all turn out but there are a lot of variables involved.”
The entire project would cost roughly $15 million over a 10-year period, all potentially funded by the Penny for Pinellas tax, according to St. Petersburg city officials.
The plan is not without controversy. During Tuesday’s meeting, there was seldom a moment where audience members were not booing and yelling out phrases such as “go somewhere else” and “not here.”
“First of all, this is a church and conversation needs to be respectful,” said Gerdes to the crowd.
“Where is the traffic going to go?” said neighborhood resident Joseph Wippel, who opposed the project. “Everything is going downhill if we buy this property.”
The process of turning a property into low-income housing is not a new concept. There are several city-bought apartment buildings dedicated to affordable housing throughout St. Petersburg.
Buildings such as Booker Creek Apartments, Wyngate Apartments and City Place Senior Apartments are all low-income housing units that were originally purchased by the city.
“If it turned out to be section 8 housing, that would be a problem,” Ray told the Gabber. “If it was more like Booker Creek, I don’t see a problem.”
Not every meeting attendee opposed the plan.
“It’s going to help the community,” said Denise Deja, a St. Petersburg resident. “Your everyday worker cannot afford housing here, and people don’t realize that the average rent is going to be $900 to $1,000. It’s not like it’s going to bring in criminals and gangs.”
Despite the controversy, the five-acre property, which would cost the city $1.75 million, is not a done deal. In fact, even if city council approves the sale at the next meeting, the contract can still be revoked within a nine-month period.
“People are not cost-burdened by choice,” said Neighborhood Services Administrator Rob Gerdes. “The people that will benefit are regular workers like a cashier at Publix, a clerk, and of course seniors.”
According to the city’s presentation, if the project is developed, an apartment will cost a household of three about $1,350, an estimated 30 percent of an average family’s income.
“We want to provide resources to help those that really just need a little bit of help,” said Gerdes. “It’s time to address the issue of affordable housing.”