Pinellas County is changing fast. For some, change means new energy and economic prosperity. For others, it feels like their hometown is becoming a place they can’t afford anymore.

The average Tampa Bay household uses about 42.6% of their budget to pay for housing – that’s about 12.6% higher than the “affordability” rule that housing should be no more than 30% of your budget.

Local Homes for Local People is about protecting our neighbors and our local economy. It’s about local governments working with neighbors to make sure everyone has a place they can afford to call home.

Ways to help…

Think creatively about our neighborhoods and who lives here: teachers, first responders, nurses, mechanics, our children and our aging parents – individuals and families are going into debt, living in motels, or couch surfing just to remain near their job.

✔ Make space for our neighbors by accepting new things: maybe it’s a low-profile apartment in your neighborhood, garage apartments, or an enclave of tiny homes. We live in the most densely-developed county in Florida, so we’re going to have to get creative about where new homes go and how they’re built.

✔ Become a Community Champion: Get the facts, tell your neighbors and help change the story about the future of your neighborhood.

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THE NEED FOR ACTION

Housing is a big challenge, but we can overcome it together:

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Median household income for a family of 4
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Median home sale price in Pinellas
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The average percentage of household income spent on housing & transportation in Tampa Bay

FAQ: Answering your questions about creating more affordable homes

Density, zoning, tax credits – these terms can trigger strong reactions in public discussions about housing. Most people say they want more housing choices in their community, but when actual projects or policies come up for public decision, residents worry about perceived consequences for their neighborhood. While it’s not possible to speak to every specific concern, this FAQ will give you a better idea of why we’re changing our approach to housing and provide some additional information to address common misconceptions about affordable homes. (Note: Answers with * sourced from the Florida Housing Coalition.)

 

What are “affordable homes” and who qualifies for them?

1. How do you define “affordable" homes?

An affordable home is a safe and decent home. It differs from a market-rate home in two ways:

  1. There are income limits on who can live in the home to ensure those whose incomes don’t meet the rising housing costs can still live in quality homes;
  2. The way the home is financed provides opportunities for those with lower or fixed incomes (e.g., seniors) to live in homes with lower monthly rents.

In general, people are said to be living in an “affordable home” when their household spends no more than 30% of its income on either rent or mortgage payments. When families spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs, they become cost burdened and do not have enough money left over to pay for items such as food, clothing, healthcare, utilities, and transportation.*

 

2. Who needs an affordable home?

A LOT of people – a whole lot more than just a few years ago – including lifelong residents like William Spencer. His family once could afford a two-bedroom home in Clearwater with his job at an airplane parts manufacturer, but later found himself living in a motel after facing an enormous rent increase. Teachers, mechanics, daycare workers, hotel clerks and first responders are just a few other examples of the kinds of workers struggling to afford housing these days.

A family of four with an infant and a preschooler needs to annually make $88,000 to live comfortably in the Tampa Bay area, according to the United Way Suncoast. In Pinellas County, the median income for a family of four is more than $89,000.

A 2024 study by the University of South Florida and the Tampa Bay Partnership found that average families in our area are struggling to make ends meet:

  • On average, Tampa Bay households use 42.61% of their budgets to pay for housing – that’s 12.61% higher than the general “affordability” rule that housing should be no more than 30% of your household budget.
  • The average household spends 57% of their income on housing and transportation.
  • Full-time work is not enough to make ends meet, meaning households are increasingly pulling from their savings.

3. How do you qualify for an affordable home?

Pinellas County’s area median income for an individual is currently around $69,000. Households that earn near or below the area’s median income level qualify for various kinds of help because they typically must spend more than 30% of their income on housing. These are the income levels defined by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which the State of Florida uses to determine who qualifies for assistance in paying for their home:

  • Extremely low-income describes a household at or below 30% of area median income (annual income range for 1-4 person household is $18,250-$30,000) – that’s about 59,118 Pinellas households.
  • Very low-income describes a household at or below 50% of area median income (annual income range for 1-4 person household is $30,450-$43,450) – that’s about 45,467 Pinellas households.
  • Low-income describes a household at or below 80% of area median income (annual income range for 1-4 person household is $48,650-$69,500) – that’s about 69,949 in Pinellas households.
  • Moderate-income describes a household at or below 120% of area median income (annual income range for 1-4 person household is $73,080-$104,280) – that’s about 75,478 Pinellas households. This level of housing is also known as “workforce housing.”

Median income is determined by HUD based on County or Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs). Median incomes are updated annually by HUD; the Florida Housing Coalition posts an updated median income chart on its website www.flhousing.org (Go to SHIP FAQ, Income Eligibility).*

4. How do people who qualify find a home they can afford?

Households with low- to extremely low-income may qualify for housing vouchers through the Pinellas County Housing Authority or city housing authorities, which are independent agencies established by the State of Florida. These vouchers pay the difference between what someone can afford and the rent for homes or apartments managed by participating landlords. Waitlists for housing vouchers in Pinellas and other Tampa Bay area counties take an average of 3-4 years to obtain, so this is not a quick option for people currently struggling to find a home.

Those who don’t qualify for housing vouchers or other public assistance, or who can’t obtain one, may search for affordable rentals in the local market. As of January 2024, Pinellas County has 7,7000+ that are “income-restricted,” meaning they are only available to people who earn near or below the area median income. Most of these rental properties were built with public support from the federal, state, and/or local government. In exchange for financial support, the property owners agreed to keep rents affordable for a set amount of time.

Pinellas County and city governments also help with homeownership in the form of down payment assistance and other assistance for people trying to purchase a home. Learn more.

5. How are affordable homes funded?

A significant part of what makes a home affordable is a decrease in monthly rent so that individuals and families pay less than what it would cost on the market. When local governments provide financial support for new rental apartments, developers agree to restrict their rent based on the size of the family and number of bedrooms in a unit. The financing of affordable housing is made possible through federal, state and local government programs.*

 

6. What is the difference between an affordable home and public housing?

Public housing is built and operated by the government. Affordable rental homes are built by the private sector, often by the very same companies who also build market-rate housing. The affordable apartments generally look the same as market-rate apartments. The government subsidy and/or the private sector investment in tax credits allows the developer to reduce rents, keeping the property affordable for the residents.*

7. How do you ensure that private developers keep rents “affordable” as the market changes over time?

As a condition of receiving financial support through government programs, developers enter an agreement to keep rents at a set level for a specified length of time. Often this is done by placing the land in a land trust where a public agency or non-profit entity provides a 99-year ground lease on the land to make sure any housing built on the land will stay affordable. In Pinellas, the Pinellas County Housing Finance Authority (HFA) acts as the trustee to administer the land trust for County-funded affordable housing developments. The HFA is a dependent district of the County created in the 1980s to finance housing opportunities via low interest rates, tax credits, down payment assistance, closing cost assistance, tax exempt municipal bonds for multifamily developments and other programs.

When government provides financing in the form of grants, loans or donated land to make housing affordable, it is in the public’s interest to keep that housing affordable. The 99-year ground lease is renewed every time the property is sold, providing affordability for one generation after the next.*

8. Why don’t developers produce affordable homes without government support?

Home prices, whether homeownership or rental, are driven by how many people are trying to buy or rent homes. People around the country and world are trying to buy in Florida, whether it’s for housing, luxury vacation homes or investments. In fact, the Tampa Bay area was no. 1 in net migration (new people moving here) among a large group of similarly-sized metro areas, according to a 2024 USF study. Consequently, the Tampa Bay area has seen a spike in rent prices in recent years, with rent value increasing by 72% from 2015 to 2023. Similarly, our region has experienced a significant increase in typical home value, jumping almost 126% from 2015 to 2023.

We can’t limit who buys homes. There is an enormous demand for housing that is affordable to the Florida workforce, but there is also an enormous demand for high-priced housing. Higher priced housing is more profitable and will therefore be the housing that is built by the market-rate builders. Florida’s workforce is trying to buy or rent homes near their jobs, but those homes are increasingly out of financial reach.*

How will adding affordable homes impact my neighborhood?

1. I support more housing choices, but I’m worried that affordable homes or other new types of housing will negatively alter the character of my neighborhood.

Nobody wants to see an oversized building development pop up overnight in the middle of a single-family neighborhood. The Advantage Pinellas Housing Action Plan calls for adding new types of homes in places where it makes sense and builds on existing community character. At the same, with limited undeveloped land, we’re going to have to get creative with how and where we build new homes that can accommodate the needs of our growing workforce.

Here are some examples of the kinds of new housing options we have in mind:

Large-Scale Multifamily Developments

These are planned in high-traffic urban and suburban areas near transportation, shopping, and schools – ideally, right along existing public transit routes.

Townhomes, Duplexes, Triplexes, Garage Apartments (ADUs) in Neighborhoods

Many traditional Pinellas County neighborhoods host single-family homes built right next to midsized apartments or duplexes. Many of the single-family homes also have garage apartments or “in-law suites” that homeowners can rent to help offset their mortgage.  Allowing more neighborhoods to return to historic housing patterns will create more options, especially for everyday workers, college grads getting started in the workforce, and young families.

2. I’m concerned that having affordable homes near me will lower my property value.

Today’s affordable homes are safe, well-designed, and virtually indistinguishable from other residential development on the market. Take the new SkyWay Lofts Apartments in South St. Petersburg for example – rents at SkyWay Lofts are approximately 50% of the cost of the luxury apartments across the street at The Addison, but the neighboring developments both feature modern designs and quality construction despite the income difference of their residents.

Studies by the Center for Housing Policy demonstrate that nationally “affordable housing does not depress neighboring property values and may even raise them in some cases.” After reviewing 30 studies, the Center found 7 affordable housing developments had positive effects on property values, 19 had no effects, 1 negative and 3 were inconclusive.

“Overall, the research suggests that neighbors should have little to fear from the type of attractive and modestly sized developments that constitute the bulk of newly produced affordable housing today.”

3. I’ve heard that affordable homes attract crime.

This is a common misconception, but here’s a sampling of what national research shows:

  • A 2017 Stanford study found that affordable development (properties financed by the Low Income Housing Tax Credit) caused “declines in both violent and property crime within low income areas, but does not increase crime in high income areas” and property crime in high income areas “may even fall slightly.”
  • A 2022 study by the University of California Irvine’s Livable Cities Lab found that “[t]he city with the most affordable housing units in the entire country—Irvine [CA]—is the safest in the nation, based on FBI Uniform Crime Reporting statistics.”

4. We already have too much development; adding more – especially big apartments – is only going to bring more traffic and could hurt our environment.

New developments must meet a range of standards to get approved for construction, whether they’re market rate or affordable. Larger proposals (more than 3,000 square feet) require a detailed analysis of impact to the surrounding environment, including anticipated stormwater and flooding, as well as landscaping.

County and city planning staff also use traffic studies to determine if the number of new units will have a major impact on neighborhood traffic patterns; if big impacts are expected, developers must come up with ways to reduce those impacts. In fact, national research by the Institute of Traffic Engineers shows that multifamily housing (including apartments, condominiums, and townhomes) have a lower traffic impact than single-family housing, especially when located in walkable areas and near public transit.

Lastly, new zoning proposals to allow for different types of housing in traditional neighborhoods – For example, the City of St. Petersburg requires on-site parking spaces must be provided and be located entirely on the property. (Section 16.50.010).

5. What rules or policies are in place to determine where new affordable homes can be built?

The County’s comprehensive plan (PLANPinellas) outlines policies that support housing choice through a range of densities, sizes, types and tenure (e.g., rental, ownership, etc.) Affordable housing is planned for and located in ways that support mixed-income neighborhoods with convenient access to jobs, transportation, and other services/amenities.

Members of the Advantage Pinellas Housing Compact have also developed a Housing Action Plan to help Pinellas County and its municipalities implement consistent policies for where and how new homes are built that respects the diversity of our community while making room for the growing housing needs of our families and our workforce. The Action Plan specifically focuses on “corridor planning,” which aims to place appropriate sizes and scales of housing in specific areas of the community (e.g. a large multifamily development located near public transit).

The State of Florida has also recently relaxed regulations on housing development through the Live Local Act. State Legislature passed an expansive law in 2023 relaxing certain regulations on height and location of housing if a specific amount of the development is affordable or workforce housing. Here are a few examples of how the Live Local Act could impact new housing development in our community:  

  • A local government may not restrict the height of an eligible project below the tallest currently allowed height for a commercial or residential development in the unincorporated area within 1 mile of the proposed project, or 3 stories, whichever is higher.
  • A local government may not restrict the density of an eligible project below the highest allowable density in the jurisdiction where residential development is allowed.
  • The County must consider reducing parking requirements for eligible projects if it is located within ½ mile of a “major transit stop” (as defined by the local government). Note: The County’s Land Development Code currently allows for 15% parking reduction within 1/4 mile (a typical five-minute walk) of any PSTA line with 30 minute or less headways during AM/PM peak times.