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Commissioners allocate $6 million for affordable housing projects

Mark Parker

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A month after St. Petersburg became the first city in the state to utilize a new process to transform industrially zoned property into affordable housing, Pinellas County Commissioners are allocating $5.6 million for the projects land and construction costs. A county land trust ensures a 99-year affordability period. Rendering courtesy of HP Capital Group.

The Pinellas County Board of Commissioners approved nearly $6 million in funding for two housing projects Tuesday, which will provide 270 more affordable homes for county residents – including those with special needs.

The bulk of the funding – $5.6 million – is allocated to the Fairfield Avenue Apartments at 3300 Fairfield Ave. S. in St. Petersburg. The development will transform an old lumber yard into 264 affordable units.

The county approval during Tuesday’s board meeting follows St. Petersburg’s a month earlier. When it approved the development, the city became the first municipality in Florida to take advantage of a 2020 House Bill that provides a process to create affordable housing in otherwise prohibited zoning districts. In April, the St. Pete City Council unanimously agreed to turn the industrial-zoned, seven-acre location currently occupied by Tibbetts Lumber into the Fairfield Avenue housing complex.

“I just want to really shine a light on this project because it’s something that shows a wonderful partnership between the county and cities,” said Commissioner Renee Flowers.

Flowers, who said she lives near the lumber yard, noted the “huge” tract is close to Gibbs High School, the interstate and provides easy access to Central Avenue for shopping. The Pinellas Trail also borders the site to its south, with Fairfield Avenue to its north.

“This project just really sits in the middle of everything that we’ve been talking about when we talk about walkable communities and providing a substantial number of units within the community,” said Flowers. “I just wanted to highlight that this is one of those, one of several, but one of those really, really good projects that we are looking for.”

That walkability is part of the strict criteria St. Petersburg included in a city code amendment that created a process for a developer to apply for an affordable housing project not typically permitted in certain zoning districts.

During an April 14 city council meeting, City Administrator Rob Gerdes explained a potential development must include a minimum of 60 units and five acres, a location within two miles of a public or vocational school, one mile of a grocery store and the Pinellas Trail or a city park, and within a quarter-mile of a PSTA bus line.

The proposed site is bordered by the Pinellas Trail to the south and Fairfield Avenue South to its north. Gibbs High School, grocery stores and a PSTA bus stop are all nearby. Screengrab.

Maximum rent or sale price is also capped at 120% or below the area median income (AMI), with a 30-year minimum affordability period. The Fairfield Avenue Apartments set aside 53 units for those making 50% or less of the AMI, which is currently $33,250 for a household of three. Another 67 units are for those making up to 80% of the AMI, and the remaining 144 are available to residents at or below 120% of the AMI, or $79,800 for a three-person household.

The county typically offers money for a project’s land, noted Commissioner Dave Eggers. He asked if some of the funding would go towards construction costs as an incentive for the developer, HP Capital Group, to make more units “affordable.” He said units listed below 80% of AMI are affordable, while he would consider over half the units as “workforce housing.”

Bruce Bussey, community development manager, said the property value is around the $5.6 million allocated by the county. However, he said the county would provide $3 million at closing and $2.6 million for construction costs as the developer reaches affordability milestones.

“So, we’re still meeting that goal of acquiring the land for the land trust for permanent affordable housing,” said Bussey. “But we’re mitigating a little bit of the risk by not putting all of the dollars up front.”

The county land trust would ensure an affordability term of 99 years, rather than the 30-year stipulation in the city agreement.

The voter-approved Penny for Pinellas sales tax is providing the $5.6 million in funding for the project. A loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the South St. Petersburg CRA also supports the development. Tibbets Lumber plans to relocate to Largo, and the company must offer all current employees jobs at the new location.

“This will help us get to where it is we want to be,” said Flowers. “Just a really good project.”

Over the last two years, commissioners have approved 1,100 affordable homes with funding from Penny for Pinellas. According to county data, Pinellas has committed an estimated $80 million from the tax to support affordable housing developments over the next decade.

Commissioners also approved funding for the renovation of six affordable units in Lealman during Tuesday’s board meeting.

The Homes for Independence, located at 1000 79th Ave. N., 8211 12th Way N. and 3890 7th Ave. N. in the Lealman Community Redevelopment Area, will provide six affordable units for residents with special needs. Commissioners approved using $386,198 in State Housing Initiative Partnership Program (SHIP) funding to rehabilitate the homes.

Three units are for those making less than 50% of the AMI, and three are restricted to households making below 60% of the AMI. The county will impose a 30-year affordability period through a Land Use Restriction Agreement, and all six Homes for Independence are set aside for residents with special needs.

For more information on countywide affordable housing programs, visit the website here. For a list of resources to help renters and others struggling with housing affordability, visit the website here.

 

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