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More and more people are finding themselves living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region. In some places, rent has doubled. The cost of everyday goods — like gas and groceries — keeps creeping up. All the while, wages lag behind and the affordable housing crisis looms. Amid cost-of-living increases, WUSF is focused on documenting how people are making ends meet.

A new program for St. Petersburg renters offers help to pay their utility bills

Aerial view of a waterfront skyline with tall buildings behind a marina filled with boats
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Under the Renter Relief Utility program, Duke Energy and the City of St. Petersburg will help customer pay utility bills that are past due

The city and Duke Energy announced the Renter Utility Relief Program at a news conference Friday. This plan will help renters pay electric, sanitation and water bills that are past due.

Low-income renters in St. Petersburg now have access to a program that will assist with rising utility bills.

The city and Duke Energy announced the Renter Utility Relief Program at a news conference Friday. This plan will help renters pay electric, sanitation and water bills that are past due.

For renters to qualify, they must make 80% or less of the area’s median income, which is about $48,650 for one individual.

Money awarded will be directly applied to the recipient's utility account. The program has an 18 month duration, with no limit on the dollar amount they'll receive.

“Our city is offering a lifeline to renters who find themselves drowning in past due bills,” said Deborah Figgs-Sanders, the chair of the St. Petersburg City Council. “The program is not just about financial assistance, but it’s about providing a chance to reduce the suffocating burden of debt and regain a sense of stability.”

According to the city website, other requirements to qualify include:

  • Applicant is a renter within St. Petersburg city limits or a landlord whose utility costs are part of a rental agreement
  • Renter has experienced financial hardship from COVID-19 (inflation is sufficient)
  • Renter is at risk of housing instability or homelessness

Qualified renters seeking help with utility bills can apply here. Renters with unpaid Duke electricity bills can apply here.

The program is funded by $3 million in leftover federal pandemic relief money.

If residents don’t qualify, the Duke Energy Florida President Melissa Seixas encourages them to reach out to Duke Energy for solutions to their particular service challenge, or needs that they have for their bill.

“Don't wait. Please call us. Let us work with you to see what we can figure out whether it's this program, whether it's some other type of program, whether it's installment plans, whether it's coming out to your home and conducting an energy check, so that we can help you save money,” Seixas said. “Small changes can make a huge difference.”

At Friday's news conference, St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch also announced other federally-funded projects.

“The city of St. Petersburg has been awarded $2.35 million dollars for two projects through the Federal Community Project funding process — projects that will move our community forward, including $1.5 million for investments at the Enoch Davis Center, and $850,000 for the Deuces Rising affordable housing development," said Welch.

Madelyn Todd is a WUSF-USF Zimmerman Rush Family Digital News intern for spring of 2024.