While people across St. Petersburg are struggling to secure affordable housing, one segment of the population is particularly vulnerable to soaring rents – seniors.
According to census data, 19.3% of the city’s roughly 270,000 residents are aged 65 and over. A study conducted by the Gerontology Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston earlier this year states that one in four elderly adults rely on Social Security benefits that cover about 68% of living expenses. Meaning many can’t afford necessities or keep pace with sharp price increases.
However, a new development – Bear Creek Commons – will provide affordable housing for 85 senior households with the aid of St. Petersburg’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding.
“If you look at the elderly community when it comes to them being on a fixed income, they can’t possibly keep up with the increase in rent,” said Scott Macdonald, executive vice president for Blue Sky Communities.
Founded in Tampa in 2012, Blue Sky Communities will relocate to the Franklin Templeton campus in St. Petersburg next month. The company works with nonprofit groups and local governments to achieve affordable housing goals by building new and rehabilitating existing multifamily communities.
Blue Sky has completed over 20 projects comprising more than 1,500 affordable units across the state, although Macdonald said Tampa Bay is home to the majority. The St. Petersburg City Council approved $10.5 million in funding for the company’s two new local developments during an Oct. 20 meeting – Bear Creek Commons and SkyWay Lofts II.
Both are redevelopments of old properties and represent 151 new affordable homes. Bear Creek Commons, located at 635 64th St, S. at the former site of the Grace Connection Church, will become a senior community with 85 units.
“You could almost make the case that it’s impossible” for older residents to keep pace with 20-30% rent increases,” Macdonald said.
“Families should be seeing some wage increases. The elderly community is not benefitting from that.”
Councilmembers approved $4 million for the development out of a total of $33.8 million allocated at the meeting. Of that, $23.8 million stems from ARPA money as city leaders make good on their pledge to dedicate 76% of the funding to affordable housing solutions.
Bear Creek, the company’s sixth Pinellas County development, will provide five units for those making just 22% of the area median income (AMI), 13 at 30%, 48 at 60% and 19 apartments at the 80% AMI cap. While the city allocated $4 million for Bear Creek, Macdonald said the total cost to build the project is about $24 million.
Macdonald said city officials are also using Penny for Pinellas funds for Bear Creek, the first development in which they will utilize that money to own the land. Councilmembers also approved $8.9 million in city funding to support the St. Petersburg Housing Authority’s transformation of the former Ed White Hospital into 70 affordable units.
Stephanie Lampe, housing development coordinator, said $3 million in Penny money for that project would go towards the project’s senior housing aspect.
SkyWay Lofts II
In addition to Bear Creek Commons, city councilmembers also approved $6.5 million for the second phase of the SkyWay Lofts development. The first phase opened to families in March, and Macdonald relayed that Blue Sky received over 1,800 applications for 65 units before stopping the process.
Due to the abundance of demand, the company and local officials decided to expand upon that project. Blue Sky will construct the second phase adjacent to the original off 34th Street South, at the site of an old Ponderosa Steakhouse.
“It’s always exciting when you can be a part of a redevelopment effort, but especially when you can provide much-needed affordable housing,” said Macdonald.
Macdonald noted the surrounding Skyway Marina District’s success but said it still lacks affordable housing. Blue Sky is reaching out to people on the previous waiting list as part of marketing efforts for the 66 new units, said Macdonald.
SkyWay Lofts II will offer 12 units for families making at or below 30% of the AMI, 38 at 60% and 16 apartments for those earning less than the 80% cap. The development’s total cost is about $20 million, said Macdonald.
“When you look at the Skyway Marina District, with more than a thousand new market-rate apartments going in, to be able to get 131 affordable apartments in there – and keep them there for at least 50 years – it’s extremely exciting.”
Blue Sky expects to open Bear Creek Commons in July 2024 and SkyWay Lofts II around May 2025, said Macdonald.