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Housing costs pricing out new hires for USF St. Petersburg

A view from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus in front of the USF St. Pete University Student Center. The campus has felt the impact of rising housing costs. [ DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times ]

High housing costs are causing some new University of South Florida hires who accepted jobs in St. Petersburg to turn them down, according to the new regional chancellor for the university.

For many faculty jobs, the hiring process begins a year before the fall semester.

Tampa Bay has one of the most overvalued rental markets, according to a recent study, and median sales prices for single-family homes in the area hit over $400,000 in May.

“I’m losing faculty because they’ll accept a job, they will come here, and then three weeks later they’re saying I can’t afford to live here,” Christian Hardigree said at a recent St. Petersburg downtown partnership meeting.

For each hire who doesn’t take the job, the school loses about $50,000 to $100,000 on the search process and about nine months of teaching until the next hiring cycle, she said at the meeting.

Hardigree, who started in July, said in an interview that at the St. Petersburg campus, which typically sees only three to five new faculty hires per year, losing even one or two can leave a big impact, resulting in the delayed start of programs or development of lab spaces.

“It is a significant issue for St. Pete,” she said. “Housing is a significant issue for so many places in Florida. … For us, it’s even more of an impact. It’s not only availability. We have lower inventory. We have lower turnover. So you’re really at the mercy of what’s at your price point in the month or two before you’re trying to secure this.”

Many of the new hires, she said, are coming straight from doctoral programs and graduate student salaries.

She proposed an idea: offering subsidized housing rates for a year while faculty can move in with their families. It would give them time to find places where they feel they belong, she said, and create a “brain trust” in the city. She said ideally, she’d like to be able to extend offers like that to staff as well, whom she has learned over the past month have also been impacted by rising costs.

Alison Barlow, executive director of the St. Petersburg Innovation District, a group of science, technology, health and art organizations downtown, said it’s an issue she’s heard about across the city, including from hospitals and tech companies that have expressed concerns that it’s become a factor in recruiting.

“They know people can go further away to find housing, but that’s kind of counterproductive to what we’d like to promote in St. Pete as a lifestyle,” she said. “If you have to drive 45 minutes to get to work, that’s what’s happening in other big cities, why should it be happening here?”

Barlow said larger employers are now exploring creative solutions, including entering public-private partnerships to build housing for their workers and looking at what other cities and communities have done.

The Innovation District is looking at how existing land could be repurposed.

Those plans, Barlow said, are still in the early phases.

“This is a topic we’re all going to have to get involved in,” Barlow said. “It’s not going to be solved by one entity. It’s going to take the government, nonprofit and for-profit sectors coming together.”

Additional reporting by Times staff writer Colleen Wright.

Divya Kumar covers higher education for the Tampa Bay Times, in partnership with Open Campus.