Property Rights, Regulations, and Taxes
Hello Everyone Thank you for listening to this edition of the St Pete News Podcast
I’m your host Joshua Black, and for the next 20 minutes we are going to review the Nov 15 meeting for the City Council of the City of St Petersburg
I was actually late to the meeting, because the meeting normally starts at 3 Pm, but it was moved up, because the city was trying to coordinate a meeting with the St Pete Housing Authority. The St Pete Housing Authority had requested $3M in assistance from the City of St Petersburg for a housing development project in Jordan Park, a poor neighborhood on the South side of St Petersburg. However, recently, the city council chair has been in attendance at some of the board meetings of the St Pete Housing Authority, where she uncovered some unseemly deeds by the board of the Housing Authority.
There were declarations of intent to violate the Sunshine Statute that requires all communication between public officials about official business to be made in public meetings. There was the recent creation of the RISE Development corporation by the St Pete Housing Authority with the board members of the Housing Authority serving as board members of the RISE Development corporation–though that itself isn’t necessarily indicative of corruption or malfeasance–but with the compensation of the CEO being tied to the amount of money spent by the RISE corp on the projects created by the Housing Authority, a clear conflict of interest.
The council chair of the city of St Petersburg has relayed these findings in public meetings to the rest of the city council, and the council authorized the council chair to request a Committee of the Whole meeting with the entire Board of the Housing Authority. The attorney for the Housing Authority recommended that the Board not meet with City Council, and thus the early start to accommodate that meeting went for naught.
However, the council members expressed dismay and grief not only with the findings of the chair and the rejection of the meeting offer, but also with the condition of the homes overseen by the Housing Authority. Councilmember Steve Kornell stated that he has personally witnessed both infestations and building related issues that the Housing Authority has ignored.
All of this because back in the 1930s, someone decided that bureaucrats could do a better job of providing housing for the poor than the market place can. Back then, it was the decision of city council to create the board, but, by Florida Law, they cannot disband the housing authority. I suppose the intent was to prevent racists from throwing black families back out to the streets, but the end result has been that poor families in St Pete are getting the shaft, and only legislators in Tallahassee can do anything about it, not the people closest to the situation.
In fact, most funding for the housing authority comes from the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). They receive some funding from the state, but mostly nothing from the city except in rare cases, like the present one. The only check that the city council has on this wayward agency is to withhold these funds–and to request that the mayor seek to remove the board members responsible for the neglect of duty by the board. To that end, the council requested that the legal department draft a resolution requesting that the mayor remove the two longest-tenured members of the board. The mayor’s action would need to be formally followed by concurrence from the city council for the removal to be effective.
In my remarks to the council on the topic, I recommended that they request the removal of the full board. All of the members have been present for more than 3 years. That’s long enough to make a stink about the present corruption. To be fair, some board members have voiced concerns, but it is unclear whether their concerns were for their own aggrandizement or for the residents of the houses they oversee.
I also mentioned to the city council that property taxes are an important factor in the housing market. All potential landlords must consider taxation as part of the cost of doing business when they decide whether to enter the housing market. Higher taxes mean that fewer persons will enter, reducing the possible supply and thus maintaining the higher prices. Subsidies don’t do anything to reduce the prices, because demand isn’t based on the number of individuals looking for housing but on the amount of money available to be spent on housing. In other words, subsidies actually increase demand, not supply.
The rest of the early portion of the meeting consisted of items pulled from the Consent Agenda for questions by City Council members. The city staff presented their cases for the spending proposals, and most of the measures passed unanimously, and the one that I witnessed that did not pass unanimously was only opposed by one member, and his reason wasn’t clear, because he stated during the discussion that some of his initial concerns had adequately been addressed.
The evening portion of the meeting concerned neighborhood discord: one portion of the meeting concerned the expansion of the parking regulations for the Old Northeast neighborhood. Parking is scarce in downtown St Petersburg, and the businesses downtown rely on parking restrictions to make room for patrons and generally do not provide for parking for their employees. Some of that is by design of the environmentalists who influence city council. In fact, one of the council members (Darden Rice) is on the board of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) which runs the bus system throughout Pinellas County, of which St Petersburg is a part. They want to find ways to convince people to stop driving personal automobiles.
Poor people aren’t buying into that, despite the scarcity of parking near their work places downtown. They are simply parking in adjacent neighborhoods and walking sometimes a half mile to their place of employment. One reason is that the buses don’t run that late in St Pete. One lady complained of employees from downtown restaurants parking in front of her home until 1 AM, waking her up as they departed.
The city previously responded to the complaints of residents by implementing 2 hour parking restrictions for anyone who doesn’t have a residential permit and doesn’t have a guest permit from a resident for the residential blocks closest to downtown. So, what did the employees do? They just parked on the next block. So what does that block want to do? More restrictions. So does the next block. They tried to include a third block (10th Ave NE) but the residents there balked during the November 1 city council meeting and were excluded from this proposal.
There are more plans to build more garages, and there is at least one more garage being built right now, but the employees still need to get to work, and the residents still want their parking spaces in front of their homes, while the construction continues. This proposal set a public hearing date for the proposed expansion of the program to the Dec 6 council meeting.
One final matter on the agenda was a quasi-judicial meeting to determine whether the Driftwood neighborhood should be considered a Historic Neighborhood, requiring that anyone who buys into the area either preserve the old structures or make any new ones architecturally similar AND requiring that the tree canopy be preserved in some way, whether the current trees are kept or replaced.
That portion of the meeting was preempted, however, by a lawsuit served by an opponent of the proposal at 4 PM, just two hours before the quasi-judicial meeting was to take place. The residents and council members were frustrated by the legal team’s request for a continuance, but the lawsuit alleged that the actions taken by the city council to reach this point in the process were not in accordance with the statute and ordinance requirements for this sort of thing. The legal team for the city council strongly suggested that, if there were mistakes made in the process, they might have an opportunity to “cure” them legally before moving forward. Otherwise, any decision made by the city at the end of the process could possibly be considered tainted and be thrown out by a judge with damages being awarded to the plaintiff.
The date of the next hearing is not yet determined, but I did take time to interview several members of the alliance in favor of the proposal. I managed to record one of them at length, and that interview will follow. One note about the our conversation: You will hear me mention something that Trisha told me. Trisha is the wife of Terry, and I spoke to her as she and her neighbors (David and Pam McMullen) walked back to their car before I spoke with Terry about his perspective. Here’s my conversation with Terry Moore.
I want to say this about the proposal. I don’t think that most people consider the plight of the owners of older homes. Terry mentions that some of his neighbors have lived there for 40 or 50 years and that some of the buildings are 90 years old. He also mentioned that at least one of them has passed away since he moved into the neighborhood three years ago. It is not unreasonable to believe that the people who are selling are trying to deal with failing health and the high costs of aging. It is also not unreasonable to believe that being forced to sell at a lower price because of restrictions on building types could spell financial ruin for some of these folks. It is also not unreasonable to believe that property taxes and medical bills have eaten away the money that could have been spent on property maintenance.
Terry says that the program he is proposing worked well in Hyde Park, where he used to live and where he owned two homes, presumably consecutively and not concurrently. It could reasonably be said that the increasing property values that might come along with the designation may come too late for people who have already been trying to sell, and the increase in taxes that come with the greater valuation may be financially crippling for those who haven’t decided to sell, prohibiting the investment in the maintenance that may be required to realize the full benefit of the increased property value.
In any case, it is good to see that he recognizes the inherent discord between his stated opposition to government regulations and his proposal of a government regulation in this case. The future will tell if he fully abandons one position for consistency or remains double minded.
As I stated before, the city’s legal team will make a public notice when the date is established for the quasi-judicial meeting to be continued.
Our next podcast will include information on the public meeting for the proposals for the replacement bridge for 40th Ave N E going east to Shore Acres Neighborhood. That meeting is scheduled for Tuesday November 6, between 6 and 8 PM. I will include a link below for information about this bridge project.
This has been St Pete Fl Area News, a production of the Reconstructionist Radio network.
Bridge project: http://www.40thavenuebridge.com/about-the-project/