The ceremonial first shovels of dirt were turned Wednesday for SkyWay Lofts, an affordable housing development in St. Petersburg’s Skyway Marina District.
The $16.2 million development, at 3900 34th St. S., will have two buildings with 65 one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments for working families and persons on fixed incomes. Rents will range from $315 a month for a one-bedroom, one-bath unit for a tenant whose income is 30 percent of the area median income to $1,160 a month for a two-bedroom, two-bath unit for a tenant making 80 percent of the area median income.
It’s the first ground-up project in St. Petersburg by Blue Sky Communities, based in Tampa and the 36th largest affordable housing developer in the nation. It’s also the first new workforce housing development in the district, which has some $200 million in luxury apartment construction currently underway, said Scott Macdonald, Blue Sky’s chief financial officer.
One of those projects, The Addison at Skyway Marina, is directly across 34th Street South from SkyWay Lofts. In remarks at the SkyWay Lofts groundbreaking, Mayor Rick Kriseman pointed out that The Addison will have market rate apartments.
“To me, what’s really important and something we strive for in our plan to address housing affordability is to create communities where there is mixed housing, where you’ve got market rate and you’ve got housing that’s affordable, where it’s not all one, where you don’t go to a certain area of the city and say, this is where all the low income housing or housing that’s affordable is, where you drive around the city and you can’t tell the difference,” said Kriseman, who announced a 10-year affordable housing plan last year.
One of the issues that often comes up when there is a mix of housing in community is the “not in my backyard” or NIMBY opposition from neighbors, said Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch. But he cited a Blue Sky development in Lealman that has improved the neighborhood, and said SkyWay Lofts would do the same.
“When folks see how affordable housing works, when it uplifts the neighborhood, then we’ll see folks embrace that … This is going to uplift this entire neighborhood,” Welch said. “This is what progress looks like in our community.”
Shawn Wilson, president of Blue Sky Communities, said he has fought a lot of “NIMBY” battles and he hasn’t won them all.
“What we try to do is emphasize the quality of the buildings and we try to emphasize the quality of the households that are going to live in our communities. We do that by showing the neighbors that our jobs our residents are working at. They are working in restaurants, in government, in hospitality and they are upstanding people,” he said.
A few weeks ago, Blue Sky won unanimous approval from the St. Petersburg City Council for a separate affordable housing development in the Pasadena Bear Creek area, after dozens of residents of that neighborhood spoke against the project.
State Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, said affordable housing, along with measures against housing discrimination, were hailed by the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as among the most significant achievements of the civil rights movement.
“It did not take protests for Blue Sky Communities to be motivated to do the right thing,” said Rouson, who has four Blue Sky projects in his district.
St. Petersburg City Council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders, whose district includes the Skyway Marina District, said the new development would provide those residents a safe and affordable place to live.
“Knowing that you have a roof over your head, that you are providing a roof over your families’ head, helps relieve one of life’s heaviest burdens. It also provides stability.”
Blue Sky has several funding sources for the SkyWay Lofts project:
• $13.2 million is from Raymond James tax credit funds and Florida Housing Finance Corp. housing credits, as well as TIAA Bank for the construction period
• $2.8 million is from Raymond James Bank
• $90,000 is a loan from the city of St. Petersburg
The state’s Sadowski Housing Trust Fund, created in 1995, was designed to provide funding for affordable housing, but has not been fully funded by the legislature and the governor for several years, Blue Sky’s Macdonald said.
This year, the Florida House and Senate voted to fully fund the Sadowski fund for the first time since 2007, but Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed the measure.
Had the governor not vetoed the funding, the state would have seen a $4.6 billion economic impact, putting 34,000 people statewide into construction jobs and providing housing for 32,000 people, said State Rep. Jennifer Webb, D-St. Petersburg.
“In Pinellas County what we lost by the veto of the Sadowski fund was $10.5 million in building dollars with a total economic impact of $139 million,” Webb said.
Blue Sky Communities expects to complete work on SkyWay Lofts by fall 2021. The company plans to have a local artist paint a mural on one side of one of the buildings, and is working with the St. Pete Arts Alliance on that effort.