Pinellas County is in a housing crisis. Working families are living in hotel rooms or living in their cars because they can’t afford the high cost of housing in Pinellas County. During our listening process, dozens of our members shared that they are often paying so much on their housing that they have to choose between eating or paying for their medications. No one should ever have to make that kind of decision.
According to Shimberg Center data, 82,000 families in our county are paying more than half of their income on housing. Nearly all of those families have an income that is less than $47,350 (80% of Area Median Income). Meanwhile, only 4% of households making over $47,350 (80% of AMI) are paying more than half of their income on housing.
There are over 16,000 families on the wait list for HUD’s affordable housing and the list is closed so no other families can access the assistance.
Through research we have learned that there is not enough affordable housing available for families that need it the most. Non-profit developers such as Catholic Charities, Boley Centers, and Family Promise say that their biggest hurdle to getting a family or individual into stable housing is the scarcity of affordable housing options in Pinellas County.
Last year, we asked our County Commissioners to spend 4.15% of the overall Penny for Pinellas tax money on affordable housing. This tax is a 1% sales tax for the whole county and is projected to raise $2 billion from 2020-2030. Although a majority of county commissioners agree to spend 4.15% of the total funds on affordable housing, as of now, this money is not clearly allocated. The written plan states that 8.3% of the funds will be spent on affordable housing AND economic development. We are concerned this means that all of the 8.3% could technically be spent on economic development and none on affordable housing.
Based on this concern, this year at the 2018 Nehemiah Action, we asked our county commission to pass an ordinance that clearly states that 4.15% will be spend on affordable housing. Additionally, we asked that the ordinance clearly states that this money should be spent mainly on families making $47,000 or less (this is 80% of Area Median Income). Faced with 2,500 people, 4 of our County Commissioners show up and said YES! Commissioner Morroni, who could not attend for health reasons, wrote a letter beforehand confirming his support. We are currently following up with the Commissioners to make sure this ordinance gets written and passed.
Additionally, last year at the Action we asked the St. Petersburg City Council members to use a percentage of the city's Penny tax money on affordable housing. Though initially resistant, we were able to change their minds and get them to commit to use $15 million for affordable housing! The $15 million is officially in the city's budget for Penny for Pinellas and was approved unanimously by all city council members in the summer of 2017. Additionally, in the summer of 2018, we got the St. Pete city council to pass a resolution that states that 75% of this $15 million will be spent on families making 80% of the Area Median Income.
We worked on affordable housing in previous years, as well. In 2007 we got the County to spend $19.2 million into the affordable housing trust fund, and in 2015 we got the County to spend $15 million from the Penny tax on affordable housing. For a map of all the housing projects that have been built with the money we've gotten committed, click here.
Through our listening process the past few years, we have heard numerous stories relating to problems that youth in our community are struggling with. We've heard stories from parents who can't afford after school activities for their children, and they are worried that their children will end up hanging out with the wrong crowd while being unsupervised after school. We've heard from parents whose children need drug treatment but can't afford it. Other families shared their concerns for bullying and misbehavior in their child's school. After hearing hundreds of stories like these, FAST congregations overwhelmingly voted to work on Youth Concerns in the fall of 2017.
After voting to work on Youth Concerns, our committee took a deep look into the stories we heard from our congregations and identified that many stories were from parents who were frustrated by the lack of discipline in schools, and teachers who felt that they did not have the support they needed to implement effective discipline policies. In looking at how other communities across the nation have addressed this problem, we identified a solution: restorative justice practices.
Right now, our school district adheres to a zero-tolerance policy. This means that if two children get in a fight, both are automatically suspended and sent home from school. Research has shown, however, that even one out of school suspension makes children more likely to drop out. Many children also want to be sent home because they're rather be home on suspension and unsupervised while their parents are working than be stuck in class. Sending a child home does not teach them how to resolve conflict, it simply removes them from the immediate situation. Restorative practices, on other hand, allows children to stay within a learning environment and helps teach them how to effectively manage conflict. It focuses on getting to the root cause of the misbehavior and working with the child and the child's parents to fix the problem.
The School District currently trains staff on restorative practices using the "Train the Trainer" model. This mean that one or two people from each school is sent to a few days of training, and then is responsible for coming back and training the rest of the staff in that school how to use restorative practices. We know from our research, however, that successfully implementing restorative practices requires a culture change in the school that will only be brought about with consistent, more than once-a-year training and consulting from a qualified company. Other districts have used a "Whole School Change" model of restorative justice where consultants come in once per month for hands-on training and mentoring of school staff using restorative practices.
For updated information on what meetings are coming up, please contact your congregation's justice ministry team leader or call the FAST office.