St. Pete’s push for tenant’s right to counsel takes another small step toward reality | Tampa Bay News | Tampa

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Photo by Dave Decker

Richie Floyd, member of the St. Petersburg City Council.

On Thursday, St. Pete’s Youth and Family Services (YFS) committee heard from the city’s legal department about creating a Right to Counsel (RTC) program for tenants at the city ​​scale.

“That’s something we can do in terms of funding for eviction assistance services,” said Bradley Tennant, assistant city attorney, adding that the program should be funded year after year. and that it is best done through a council resolution.

Council member Richie Floyd raised the issue with the committee in April. Thursday was the second meeting on Right to Counsel, or RTC, a program that has shown eviction reductions as high as 84% ​​in New York City.

“The high estimate right now [here] is a 70% default rate,” Floyd said. “That’s pretty much what I’ve heard from legal aid organizations.”

The default rate is when a judge hears the eviction case and votes in favor of the landlord seeking the order, often because the tenant cannot afford legal representation. Floyd estimates a program at St. Pete could cover 382 to 954 cases in its first year alone, depending on how many people can be reached.

“The financial burden isn’t that high initially,” Floyd said. “And there are huge payoffs across the board in terms of the cost of services saved.”

Amy Foster, a former District 8 City Council member (Floyd’s predecessor), is now Mayor Ken Welch’s neighborhood and community affairs administrator. She spoke on behalf of the administration and cited support for the initiative, pending funding and the data is all in order.

“The administration certainly supports the idea of ​​reducing evictions that lead to homelessness,” Foster said.

Foster is currently CEO of the Homeless Leadership Alliance of Pinellas. At his last city council last year, Foster notably passed a motion to refer the issue of rent control to the new city council in 2022.

The move on the RTC comes after a motion to send rent control back to the YFS committee failed last week. All YFS committee members originally voted to put rent control on the ballot via a resolution two weeks ago. Council member Copley Gerdes did not support the amended motion last week; the rest of the YFS (Figgs-Sanders, Wheeler-Bowman and Floyd) voted in favour.

“The more questions we get, the closer we get to a yes,” said committee chair Deborah Figgs-Sanders.

The discussion of income requirements for those accessing future services remains in debate.

“Floyd doesn’t want to test his ways,” Foster said. “The administration does not support helping high-income people.”

Figgs-Sanders agreed. But Floyd, Gerdes and Wheeler-Bowman don’t think those facing eviction should have to prove their income to get help.

“I don’t want to burden people with paperwork to get into the system to provide income levels when the set [eviction process] lasts five days,” Floyd said. “I don’t want us to be afraid that some hypothetical wealthy person decides they want to use a community law program, that’s not going to happen…I’m not going to support a cumbersome verification process.”

Aside from the revenue guidelines, the program must also be funded, and this source of revenue is yet to be determined. Floyd, the city administration and the legal department will come back and find possible sources of revenue and wording for the possible resolution. Based on Thursday’s meeting, Foster is asking for the city’s participation in a process called an RTC sprint, where different community leaders come together to figure out how to implement RTC. A new city position on tracking people facing evictions is in the works and data is being collected to determine who is unable to access existing services due to income or other barriers.

“We can’t fund the whole universe,” Foster said. “We need data to establish this discrepancy.”

In addition to suing the RTC, the committee asked about available city services in the tenants’ bill of rights, either at the time of lease signing or eviction (or both). And Floyd asked if it was possible to visually advertise those rights via posters (think workers’ compensation in the break room). Finally, the plan is to present the program and the resolution to the municipal council for a vote. But all of the above will take at least a few months, according to the administration.

It’s been a long week for housing justice advocates in Florida. There have been two weeks of sleepovers outside St. Pete’s City Hall demanding a rent control vote. Residents have spent hours advocating and educating their elected officials about the many ways the housing crisis is hurting their lives, only to see St. Pete’s recent bid for rent control fall flat. Nor has Tampa advanced its own rent control ballot initiative recently. Orange County passed its rent stabilization ballot initiative last week, only to be sued this week by the Florida Apartment Association.

Later, at Thursday’s city council meeting with St. Pete Police Chief Anthony Holloway, councilman Ed Montanari wanted answers about how residents were able to protest two weeks in a row by camping outside City Hall.

Click to enlarge Ed Montanari, member of the St. Petersburg City Council.  - Photo by Dave Decker

Photo by Dave Decker

Ed Montanari, member of the St. Petersburg City Council.

“There were several tents in front of City Hall and one person was cited for that,” Montanari said. “Was there a request for a permit to put these tents there?

“By my department, no sir,” Holloway said.

Allendale United Methodist Rev. Andy Oliver was the only quote.

“Tell me about the law, if the sidewalks are blocked and there is no permit and the police come to see it, the tents are supposed to be removed?” said Montanari.

“Yes sir, when I was here the sidewalk was not blocked off,” Holloway said. “We could only name one person because he said the tents belonged to him. I made the decision to remove the tents in the morning.

“So the sidewalks weren’t blocked?” asked Montanari. “Are they allowed to have a tent on the sidewalk?

“No sir,” Holloway said. “It was my discretion.”

“We had a lot of speakers the next day who said they stayed in their tent all night,” Montanari said.

“We can guarantee this won’t happen again,” Holloway said.

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