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Commissioners approve $40.5 million in housing bonds

Mark Parker



Pinellas County Commissioners unanimously approved up to $12.5 million for St. Petersburg’s Bear Creek Commons and up to $28 million for five midrise buildings that will comprise the Oakhurst Trace apartments in Pinellas Park. Screengrab.

Two long-awaited affordable housing projects totaling 305 units received an influx of new funding Thursday through Multifamily Housing Revenue Bonds.

Pinellas County Commissioners unanimously approved up to $12.5 million for St. Petersburg’s Bear Creek Commons and up to $28 million for five midrise buildings that will comprise the Oakhurst Trace apartments in Pinellas Park. The county’s Housing Finance Authority (HFA) will issue the tax-exempt bonds, and both developments received funding from other sources.

Bear Creek Commons will feature 85 affordable units for seniors along 64th Street South in St. Petersburg. Blue Sky Communities is developing the project at the former site of the Grace Connection Church.

Company president Shawn Wilson addressed the commission and noted the total cost is around $27 million. However, he explained how multiple partners are helping see the project to fruition.

“I’m very happy to say that there were no Pinellas County funds that were required to develop this community,” Wilson said. “In this case, we enjoy an allocation from the City of St. Petersburg, so I want to express my gratitude towards them.”

City officials did utilize their portion of Penny for Pinellas money to acquire the land. In addition, they committed $4 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to Bear Creek last year.

Wilson said the Florida Housing Finance Authority also contributed and provided 4% low-income housing tax credits. Blue Sky received about $10 million in subsidies from those two sources.

He told commissioners that Blue Sky “tries to borrow as much money on the open market as we can to make those government dollars stretch as far as they can go.”

Bear Creek will feature 18 units for people 55 and over who make 30% or less of the area median income (AMI). Another 48 are for those earning under 60%, and 19 units are capped at 80% AMI.

“Now, if you think $10 million of subsidy between the city and county for 85 units seems like a lot of money – but it’s only once,” Wilson added. “The affordability requirement is 50 years, that’s 600 months. If you divide up the total amount of subsidy into those 600 months by the number of units, it’s only a couple hundred dollars per month.”

An early rendering of Bear Creek Commons, which will offer 85 affordable units for St. Petersburg’s seniors. Image provided.

He said the 4% tax credit program, the primary financing vehicle for Bear Creek, is “almost unlimited.” Following the commission’s approval, company officials borrow the bonds on the open market and are solely responsible for repayment.

A background document supports his claim that commissioners are “not on the hook.” It also states there is “no fiscal impact to the county.”

Wilson relayed that Raymond James invested about $9 million to access the tax credits. He said using that process to fund affordable housing projects limits reliance on other, limited funding sources.

“So, I would urge you to look carefully at 4% tax credit developments that come before you,” Wilson concluded.

Commissioners did not discuss either project. However, immediately following the Bear Creek vote, they unanimously approved a resolution allowing the county’s HFA to increase its Housing Revenue Bond funding to SP Pinellas III.

That developer is behind the Oakhurst Trace apartments at the intersection of Mainland Boulevard West and U.S. Highway 19 North. The project consists of 220 units for residents earning 60% or less of the AMI.

Commissioners approved $22 million in bonds in May 2022.  County documents state SP Pinellas III officials later requested additional capacity due to increased cost estimates.

The developer also received $6.75 million in Penny IV Housing Countywide Investment funding for land acquisition and tax credits through Synovus Bank. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) provided construction and permanent loan financing.

The development includes five midrise residential buildings with 40 one-bedroom, 120 two-bedroom and 60 three-bedroom units. The agenda document states that the project “will also incorporate a host of green features” that promote environmental sustainability.

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    March 29, 2023at8:14 pm

    I put everything I have into buying my first house in bear creek.

    This project is not welcome in my neighborhood.

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