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County officials discuss housing challenges, solutions

Mark Parker

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The Lealman Heights project, just five miles north of downtown St. Petersburg, will transform dilapidated missionary housing into 86 new affordable units. However, soaring costs have delayed the development. Photo by Mark Parker.

Pinellas County Commissioners have contributed $37.8 million to help fund 1,146 under-construction affordable housing units; however, supply still lags far behind demand, and the average construction cost is $293,570.

Much of the Oct. 12 work session housing discussion underscored how market challenges mitigate many potential solutions. The commission recently approved increasing down payment assistance from $50,000 to $75,000 for homebuyers earning less than $73,080.

The program’s cap on home prices is $349,000, while state statute allows a $425,000 maximum. Commission Brian Scott questioned if anyone could still find a home for sale in Pinellas below the county threshold.

Bruce Bussey, community development director, suggested condominiums and townhomes. Commissioner Kathleen Peters said that despite the additional help, most qualified residents could not afford current prices and interest rates.

She said a mortgage payment under $1,300 would require the $75,000 down and a 5.5% interest rate over 40 years, “and I don’t know if you can get that.” Bussey agreed that those terms are unattainable (the current average is around 8%) and said the program’s maximum length is 30 years.

“The non-payback at 30 years can stay 30 years,” Peters added. “But that doesn’t include insurance, and it doesn’t include garbage and water and everything else. So how can $349,000 work? And if you go to a higher price, it’s still not going to work.”

A list of ongoing affordable housing projects and the county’s contribution.

Affordable Apartments

The county has helped fund 1,437 total units, and officials consider about 80% affordable – typically reserved for those earning 80% or below the area median income (AMI). The total construction cost for 11 in-progress developments is nearly $422 million.

County subsidies average $32,985 for each affordable unit. Bussey noted that the most expensive project received $58,000 per apartment.

Pinellas officials contribute Penny IV tax funding to affordable developments. While they previously planned to accrue $80 million over 10 years, that estimate is now $93 million.

“So, one of the few rising numbers that I’m happy to report is the increase in potential revenue for the program,” Bussey said.

Rebecca Stonefield, strategic initiatives manager, said ensuring the units remain affordable for 20 to 30 years is a focal point. However, many previous projects are nearing the end of those mandated terms.

Bussey said housing officials monitor those situations and hope to incentivize developers to extend the affordability period, often through rehabilitation funding. He did not provide a list of what projects were nearing that term limit.

“I think it’s important to understand what that inventory looks like,” said Commissioner Dave Eggers. “Some of them are starting to drop off, or are they, and we’re feeding the new ones. But we’re losing just as many – that kind of thing.”

The City of St. Petersburg partnered with USF to provide design templates for accessory dwelling units that homeowners can take to builders. Screengrab.

Accessory Dwelling Units

Stonefield noted that county officials are taking a page from St. Petersburg’s housing playbook and increasing their focus on accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Those homes are also known as garage apartments and carriage houses.

City council members and administrators have amended zoning regulations to allow ADUs on about 70% of all St. Petersburg lots. They have also implemented financing and construction incentives.

Stonefield said the county would likely increase its ADU size allowance from 750 to 1,000 square feet. In addition, she said housing officials are considering waiving related fees and plan to bring a revised ordinance to the commission “in the near future.”

“Developers are saying that this is the way to meet our affordable housing goals,” said County Administrator Barry Burton. “You’re never going to be able to build enough new units.

“We’ve had requests that you should be able to have more than one accessory dwelling unit on the property. So, it’ll be a good discussion.”

 

 

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8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Avatar

    K Moore

    October 20, 2023at7:32 pm

    Even if down payment assistance amounts are increased, who benefits from that? Commissioner Brian Scott made a valid point when raising concerns about the inventory of homes and being able to find homes that are affordable. Maybe they could also implement an Apartment or Housing Rental Deposit program which will help with deposits for renting a home or rental of an apartment. Most apartments are asking that you make 3x times the rental amount and asking for deposit. So, you are paying almost 3,000.00 to move in. I might as well continue to work and live in my car for about 4 months and save up a down payment to buy a home that will not be worth the asking price.

  2. Avatar

    Alan DeLisle

    October 16, 2023at8:10 am

    Sullivan is a good comedian but knows nothing about quality economic development. I hope he doesn’t speak for the administration. After building the Pier, creating the Innovation District and the EDC, establishing the Southside CRA, keeping and helping to expand Jabil and Raymond James in St Pete, sparking the Skyway Marina and EDGE districts, implementing the Fighting Chance Fund for small businesses during the pandemic, delivering new modes of transportation (Complete Streets, Ferry, Bike Share, Scooters), and putting Workforce Development on the map, the issue is for St Pete not to lose its world class economic status that Mayor Kriseman put in place. While affordability is a serious issue and always has been, it must be attacked from many perspectives.

  3. Avatar

    Steve Sullivan

    October 14, 2023at10:56 pm

    Alan, still smarting from not being a member of the new administration,I see.

  4. Avatar

    Steve Sullivan

    October 14, 2023at10:54 pm

    Hal Freedman, Alan DeLise was a development director in the prior administration who is unhappy that a project his boss (Rick Kriseman) approved was rejected by the current Mayor. Moffitt is still planning to provide services in downtown St.Pete, likely at Tropicana Field, two blocks away. It was the right call to reject that project. Vision and courage is what it took to make that call. And, what you don’t want is to amass all that housing in one site. A lot of people live outside of downtown.

  5. Avatar

    Chrissy Jackson

    October 14, 2023at4:37 pm

    Why not consider manufactured housing? Much less expensive and built to a federal building code…and attractive.

  6. Avatar

    HAL FREEDMAN

    October 14, 2023at4:25 pm

    Alan DeLisle is correct. Losing Moffitt was a big mistake. It’s like rejecting an Apple Store in a mall, because they want a deal on rent. Moffitt would have brought many other important benefits to the city. Also, the Gas Plant project will have an even smaller percentage of affordable units on site. Apparently keeping a baseball team is important enough to make affordable housing mere lip service.

  7. Avatar

    Mike

    October 13, 2023at8:14 pm

    Stop calling it “affordable housing”. That’s a loaded term. It’s a loaded political term designed to extract funding. How can anyone be against “affordable housing”.

    Call it what it is “subsidized housing”. SOMEONE is subsidizing these programs.

    What is affordable to one person is not affordable to someone else. The term “affordable housing” is a fallacy. Stop perpetuating it.

    Do this town a favor and drop the marketing campaign and tell it like it is. Someone is paying that bill.

  8. Avatar

    Alan DeLisle

    October 13, 2023at5:33 pm

    The real issue is that some projects are not just about housing. Moffitt was about other value. Quality economic development needs a broader lens. Let the market respond and the economy will be stronger.

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