ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Tenants in parts of St. Petersburg who are facing eviction may soon be eligible for free pro bono legal services.

Under the proposal going before the St. Pete City Council for a final vote Thursday, the city would use up to $300,000 in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funding to provide eviction protection and probate assistance.

The pro bono legal services would be provided by the Community Law Program and take effect Oct. 1.

What You Need To Know

  • $300,000 in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funding would be used for program 

  • Strictly for residents of the South St. Pete CRA 

  • Pro bono legal services would be in partnership with the Community Law Program

  • If passed, contract takes effect Oct. 1

As part of this pilot program, the free legal services would only be available to those living in the 7.4 miles of the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area.

George Smith, who serves as the city’s economic development officer, said in an eviction hearing usually the landlord has legal representation while the tenant does not. These free legal services would help the tenant navigate the eviction process while protecting their credit and record.

“It will help them go through the process of not having an eviction on their credit report,” Smith said. “We will not be providing additional funds to pay rent, but Community Law Group will provide free services to help them with some of the challenges. Keeping that eviction off their credit report is major.”

Under the proposed plan, the pro bono legal services would include giving legal advice to tenants, negotiating voluntary payment schedules and relocation agreements, drafting and filing pleadings in court, representing tenants throughout a formal eviction proceeding and helping mitigate the consequences of an eviction on their record.

Smith says keeping an eviction from a struggling tenant’s record is key to helping them be successful in the future. While over the past year the St. Pete City Council has discussed different ways to help tenants who struggle to pay rent, Smith was clear these services do not help pay rent or free residents from their rent obligations.

“They will still have to pay their rent. This program does not alleviate that responsibility,” he said. “All we’re doing is trying to make sure that if there’s a way forward for the resident to be able to get out of the situation that they’re in without any harm to themselves.”

Lifelong South St. Pete resident Latorra Bowles says she’s seen the uptick in evictions happening around the community and is happy to hear the city is working towards a solution.

“This is real deal happening in St. Pete and if the city sees it, it's just making it even better for us to come together and make it happen,” she said.

The St. Pete City Council is scheduled to discuss and vote on the issue during a meeting set for 3 p.m. Friday.