May 14, 2024 - News

To help St. Petersburg housing affordability, look to older buildings, study says

Illustration of old and new keys standing together.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

In a city with a firehose of new construction, St. Petersburg's older buildings lend a crucial hand in providing affordable housing, according to a new report commissioned by the historic preservation nonprofit Preserve the 'Burg.

Why it matters: When assessing how to handle the city's affordable housing crisis, St. Pete's already-existing, older buildings should be part of the conversation, Preserve the 'Burg executive director Manny Leto told Axios.

The big picture: The report, titled "Keeping the Vibe Alive: The Impact of Historic Preservation in St. Petersburg," aims to quantify how older buildings bolster the local economy.

State of play: While almost half (46%) of St. Pete's buildings were constructed before 1960, only a small portion β€” about half a percent of the city's total land area β€” are within the city's 10 local historic districts, the report found.

  • Unlike National Register of Historic Places recognition, which is largely honorary, buildings with a local designation have protections from unnecessary changes or demolition.
  • That means the vast majority of older buildings are "just sitting there waiting for someone to mow it down," said Donovan Rypkema, principal at PlaceEconomics, the firm that conducted the analysis.

Yes, but: That older building stock helps keep the city affordable, said Rypkema, who presented the report last week at the St. Petersburg Museum of History.

Zoom in: The study looked at census block groups with a median housing age older than 1960 and a median household income below the city average of about $64,000.

  • That "study area" has a higher share of households making at or below the average income than the rest of the city, according to the report.
  • The area also has a higher share of cheap housing. Three-quarters of the owner-occupied homes cost below the city median, compared to two-thirds in the rest of the city.
  • About 65% of rentals were at or below $1,250 a month β€” the median gross rent in St. Pete β€” compared to 55% of units citywide.

What they're saying: "It's the existing older housing that's meeting the needs" of lower-income residents, Rypkema said.

  • "You tear down an older housing unit, you're tearing down a unit of affordable housing. Period."

Go deeper: The report also delves into how living in a historic district impacts property values and the role older buildings play along the Central Avenue business corridor.

What's next: Leto will present the report to St. Petersburg City Council members on Thursday.

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