By Angie Angers, Spectrum Local News

Dozens of Pinellas County faith leaders are planning a vigil Wednesday evening, hoping to spark a dialogue with St. Pete Mayor Ken Welch.

FAST, which stands for Faith and Action for Strength Together, is a group made up of roughly 50 faith-based community leaders from around Pinellas County. They plan to meet around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the St. Peter Cathedral in downtown St. Pete, hoping that Mayor Welch will join them to hear their concerns regarding affordable housing. If the mayor does not attend, FAST leaders say they will head over to city hall and hold a prayer vigil.

Father Curtis said FAST first reached out to the mayor’s office last year to coordinate a meeting regarding affordable housing. Last week, Father Curtis said the mayor’s office agreed to hold the meeting but asked that it be with a few designated representatives of the group. Instead, FAST leaders decided that every congregation should be involved, so they would meet at the St. Peter Cathedral and ask the mayor to join them.

“We’ve been reaching out to the mayor’s office for more than four months trying to get a meeting with him to talk about plans for affordable housing,” said Father Curtis Carro of St. Raphael Catholic Church. “He wanted to meet with just a small faction of our group, but we want all the member congregations to be able to have their voice heard.”

Pastor Robert Ward of Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church feels the city hasn’t been fully transparent when talking about affordable housing goals. He feels a new housing development should only be labeled affordable if it markets to those making below a certain income level.

“Right now we’re seeing that they’re calling these type of units for people above 80% area median income affordable housing… so it’s very misleading,” he said.

A spokesperson for the City of St. Pete said the city has affordable housing goals that align with those of FAST.

“The City of St. Petersburg’s overall goals continue to align with FAST’s mission to protect, uplift, and educate families, especially in the critical area of affordable housing. At our 2024 State of the Economy, we shared a key update about the city’s comprehensive 10-year Housing Opportunities for All Plan: we have met 67% of our goal to create and preserve 3,200 multi-family homes by 2030. This percentage reflects the total number of units—2,146—that are in process, funded, permit-approved, under construction, preserved, or completed. Reaching or exceeding 100% of this goal can only occur through the strong public-private partnerships that the city enjoys with multiple community stakeholders, businesses, and organizations. We look forward to continuing our work together for the benefit of our families and communities in St. Pete,” city spokesperson Erica Riggins shared in a statement.

FAST leaders say they want to collaborate and innovate new solutions with the city and to do that, it’s imperative to get Mayor Welch’s support.

View the original story here.