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Lealman affordable housing project moves forward

Mark Parker



Lealman Heights will consist of 80 units along 58th Avenue and 40th Street North for those earning less than 80% of the area median income. Photos by Mark Parker.

When Pinellas County Commissioners dedicated $12.5 million to four affordable developments Tuesday, one stood out due to its scope and anticipated impact on an oft-overlooked area.

Over 20,000 people call Lealman home, and many lack transportation, grocery and safe affordable housing options. County officials have designated the underserved community just north of St. Petersburg as a community redevelopment area (CRA) and have recently increased efforts to promote its growth and sustainability.

That continued Tuesday as commissioners approved spending $2 million for construction financing to advance the Lealman Heights project. Jeremy Heath, chair of the Lealman Community Redevelopment Area Advisory Committee, said the stalled development became the area’s “first major affordable housing initiative taken on by the commission and the CRA” after they purchased the land in 2016.

“There’s been other smaller projects here and there … those are still kind of in planning phases,” Heath said. “Nothing to this scope.”

Lealman Heights includes five parcels totaling 5.08 acres along 40th  Street, 58th Avenue, 29th and 56th Avenue North. The $23.59 million development will provide 86 units for those earning less than 80% of the area median income (AMI).

Commissioners selected the developer, SP Pinellas II, through a competitive process in January 2021. A Land Use Restriction Agreement mandates a 30-year affordability period for homes in a particularly low-income section of an already underserved area.

“It’s a fairly major corridor in one the more impoverished areas in CRA,” Heath said. “A lot of the houses there have been converted into … temporary affordable housing until the full development goes in there.

“There’s definitely a need in the area; a lot of families. It was always considered an ideal spot.”

The parcels are just six miles north of downtown St. Petersburg and once served as affordable housing for missionaries.

Lealman, in general, has some desirable characteristics. Heath said that adds to the frustration when trying to foster meaningful growth.

He noted the area is centrally located and offers more affordable property outside flood zones. While Heath said that should entice developers looking for their next project in the fully developed county, they have historically overlooked this St. Pete district.

Although he wishes officials could have broken ground on a project of that scope and size years ago, he called it “extremely exciting” to see a “good development” coming to fruition in Lealman.

“Not one that’s kind of half-baked or maybe lacking the amenities that would not be acceptable in other areas of the county,” he added.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provided the $2 million plus closing costs of county money. Bruce Bussey, community development director, said federal funding necessitated additional environmental assessments.

That slowed the financing process, and construction costs continued rising. He also noted that families live in the site’s existing units, and officials didn’t want to start demolition until “everything lined up.”

The goal is to start construction, demolish the temporary homes and replace them with new units “as soon as possible.”

“There’s been quite a bit of work going on behind the scenes to get prepared to get to the construction start line,” Bussey added. “It’s amazing sometimes that these projects will take years with the financial planning stages and then less time to construct.”

Heath called uplifting Lealman a “passion project” for some local leaders, including Commissioners Charlie Justice and Renee Flowers. He also explained that county officials typically purchase smaller parcels and finance the land rather than retaining ownership, another unique project aspect.

Jeremy Heath, chairman of the Lealman CRA.

They purchased the properties from D & D Missionary Homes – which provided affordable housing to Christian missionaries – for $4.9 million in 2016. Heath said that and the continued support shows that “the county is quite serious about addressing affordability” in the area.

The parcels, across from Lealman Elementary School, are just six miles north of downtown St. Petersburg. Heath noted the development coincides with sidewalk improvements and a new crosswalk on 58th Avenue, and upgrades to Logan Park.

There is a pilot program to address underused alleys, and the goal is to make transit easier and safer for children. The Florida Dream Center, Lealman Exchange and the Lealman and Asian Neighborhood Center are nearby.

“The added density is going to be great,” Heath said. “But most importantly, it’s about building an actual community. I think you can really see a future where this can be a major bedrock of a strong Lealman community.”

He said the area has seen more progress in the last 18 months than the previous five years combined. The burgeoning city has recently implemented a logo, wayfinding signage, a Christmas tree lighting ceremony and the Honey and Arts Festival – all “small things” that provide community identity.

Despite improvements made by county and CRA officials in recent years, Heath believes residents needed “tangible, put my hands on it progress.” He said they continue dedicating millions of dollars to the area, with the Joe’s Creek Greenway project a focal point.

An aerial view of the five parcels. Screengrab.

Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties has recently built 12 new houses around the project site. Heath said, “I think you’re going to see a lot of excitement and people wanting to live in Lealman.”

“Any business with a good head on their shoulders is going to look and see the central location of the area, the relative affordability and eventually, the skilled labor there,” he added. “And of course, they’ll want to plant seeds and grow roots in Lealman.”

Bussey said construction should commence on Lealman Heights by the fall.







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  1. Avatar

    Leeza Perry

    May 11, 2023at6:43 am

    The school is an elementary school not middle. Exciting news for a lealman resident!

    Thanks for reporting!

  2. Avatar

    Adrian Lee Steininger

    May 11, 2023at9:12 am

    This is good news. I remember the missionary apartments there as we visited a missionary family there years ago. That was the only handicapped apartment. Where are missionaries going to live now?

  3. Avatar


    May 11, 2023at10:37 am

    This is very good news! Money will be well spent. This is going to a community that is working very hard at doing the right things. This is a needed improvement and will continue to improve.

    This project should be put first, before the unneeded project in the Disston Heights neighborhood that Oscar Banks, the lead pastor of Palm Lake Christian Church and co-chair of FAST, wants to fast forward the Palm Lake project before other projects. He admitted that he is a homeless divorced man in need of affordable housing and is pushing to rezone a single-family zoned area for his and the church’s own greed.

    Disston Heights does not need this. They could sell the church property and build similar single-family homes in the existing community. There is a great need for these types of homes also.

    Please see

    I am so happy for Lealman!!

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