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County Commission allocates $14.4 million for housing

Mark Parker

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In April 2022, St. Petersburg's City Council approved a proposal to transform a lumber yard into affordable housing under HB1339. It has yet to break ground. Rendering: HP Capital Group.

Pinellas County Commissioners have more than doubled their previous funding allocation, from $5.6 million to $12.4 million, to help start construction on a long-awaited affordable housing project in St. Petersburg.

The commission also dedicated $2 million to a new Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties development that will provide 54 townhomes in Largo. The total $14.4 million investment supports over 300 affordable and workforce housing units.

At the Oct. 31 board meeting, however, some county officials expressed frustration with the additional funding request for a previously approved project. Commissioner Dave Eggers noted that the Fairfield Avenue Apartments’ developers increased their ask by 120%.

“The financing … seems to be a moving target,” Eggers said. “The amount of money we’re setting aside can’t be used elsewhere until this project goes forward or fails.”

In Sept. 2021, the City of St. Petersburg became Florida’s first municipality to take advantage of House Bill 1339. The legislation allows local governments to create affordable housing in otherwise prohibited zoning districts.

In April 2022, the city council unanimously approved transforming an industrial-zoned old lumber yard at 3300 Fairfield Avenue S. into 264 affordable and workforce housing units. The Fairfield Avenue Apartments would allocate 53 units for households earning less than 50% of the area median income (AMI).

Another 67 homes are for those making below 80% AMI, and the remaining 144 apartments are for households earning less than 120% AMI – around $60,000 annually for one person in St. Petersburg. City and county officials quickly embraced the proposal.

Commissioners allocated $5.6 million to the Fairfield Apartments in May 2022. The city council contributed $2.28 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding three months later.

The project then stalled for over a year as building costs and interest rates skyrocketed. Commissioner Charlie Justice asked for a project timeline at this week’s meeting.

Bruce Bussey, community development manager, said the city council would consider an updated $9.7 million funding request – a 322% increase over the initial amount – at its Nov. 9 meeting. “We’re anticipating that being approved; (city) staff is recommending that,” he said.

The Fairfield Avenue Apartments site is bordered by the Pinellas Trail to the south and Fairfield Avenue South to the north. Screengrab.

Bussey explained that the developers, Fairfield Avenue Apartments LLC, need the county and city funding commitments to receive a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) loan. He called that “basically a traditional mortgage” backed by HUD.

Justice noted that would mean construction could commence in April or May 2024. Bussey said that was a “best-case scenario.”

Attorney Brian Aungst Jr. said his clients have a more optimistic timeline and believe they can break ground in January. The Fairfield Apartments would still be the state’s first HB 1339 development, and Aungst credited local officials for setting an example with their affordable housing efforts.

Bussey said commissioners are now in the “ninth inning” of an 18-month process. While risks remain, Bussey called additional funding “the last piece of the puzzle to put in place to move forward.”

Eggers noted that the total project cost increased by 71%, from $51.4 million to $87.9 million, while the county’s contribution soared by 120%. He asked if continued price hikes would stall the process again and require additional public subsidies.

“I just want to make sure that we’re ready to move forward on this and that we’re protecting our residents and their monies …,” Eggers added. “So, post-haste.”

Bussey said the county’s funding is “up to” $12.4 million. He said cost estimates “are much firmer” compared to 2022, and any additional requests would require the commission’s approval.

Longlake Preserves will provide 54 home ownership opportunities in Largo. Image: Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties.

Longlake Preserves

Habitat’s new Longlake Preserves development will create 54 homeownership opportunities at 1756 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. in Largo. The townhomes are for those earning below 120% of the AMI – $73,080 for one person or $104,280 for a family of four.

Habitat owns the property and has received $469,000 from the City of Largo and $884,600 in state funding, in addition to the county’s $2 million contribution. The organization expects the project to cost $18.23 million and construction to commence in December.

 

 

 

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    kathi

    November 6, 2023at11:32 am

    Why does the “affordable housing” rendering above of Fairfield Avenue Apartments (by: HP Capital Group)
    show a large pool & clubhouse? Consider cost & upkeep! Really necessary? Couldn’t funds be better used for more housing?

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