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New development puts a dent in St. Pete’s affordable housing crisis

Bill DeYoung

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Burlington Post (photo by Bill DeYoung)

Four displaced families from the historic – and troubled – Jordan Park neighborhood have found new homes at Burlington Post, a mid-rise apartment complex for residents 55 and over.

The new development, in the Kenwood District, near the Wal-Mart on 34th Street North, consists of 86 high-quality, affordable senior residences.

It’s adjacent to Burlington Place, opened in 2016, which includes 53 similar units (they’re both located on Burlington Avenue North).

Residents of Jordan Park, a traditionally African American neighborhood near Gibbs High School on the south side, were asked to move out of the Jordan Park Historic Village by the St. Petersburg Housing Authority, which planned to demolish the 31 homes in that section of the community. But the SPHA, which has owned Jordan Park since 2016, did not offer to help them locate new housing.

“They were displaced and given ‘choice’ vouchers,” said Terri Lipsey Scott, director of the Carter G. Woodson African American Museum, and a longtime advocate for Jordan Park. “And it was their task, as the elderly and those with disability, to go out and find places that would accept these vouchers.

“And needless to say, in large part, the places that would receive the vouchers are less than desirable living conditions. It was the Housing Authority’s responsibility to ensure that there were comparable living spaces – with central heat and air, washer/dryer hookup, and all of the other nice amenities.”

Both Burlington facilities were developed by Green Mills Group, based in Ft. Lauderdale. Over a period of many months, co-founders Mitch Rosenstein and Oscar Sol spoke at public meetings, with the Historic Kenwood Neighborhood Association, and with city staff and elected officials.

“Ultimately, it gave us much more credibility,” said Rosenstein, “because the local stakeholders knew that we weren’t just mercenaries coming in and trying to develop something in their neighborhood. We’re long-term partners, and we have no intentions of selling any of our properties.”

Said City Council member Amy Foster, who represents District 8 (where the Burlington developments are located), “If I could do 100 projects with Green Mills Group in St. Petersburg, I would. This development is a step in the right direction, especially for our senior population, but it’s only a drop in the bucket.

“The number of seniors entering the homeless system is increasing dramatically due to the rising rental and home costs; 86 units is a great start, but nowhere near where we need to be.”

Foster added she’s proud of the fact that the Burlington properties have received certification from the National Green Building Council, for their sustainable and environmentally friendly design.

“We hope that Burlington Place is the first of many, and Burlington Post is the second of many,” said Rosenstein. “We’re committed to the city.

“You’ve got a pretty progressive local government, with the best interests of the residents at heart. With that, you see a major push to take care of the low-income and workforce populations within the city. And that’s not always a popular position for elected officials to take.”

All Burlington Place and Burlington Post apartments are reserved for residents earning 60 percent – or less – of the area median income (AMI) for the Tampa/St. Pete Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA).

The Burlington Post site is owned by the same Delaware-based entity that owns the land under the nearby United States Postal Service office. Green Mills negotiated a 99-year ground lease.

“Of course it’s better from a legal perspective to buy a property outright, but because this was owned by a group that didn’t want to sell the land outright, we had to get creative,” Rosenstein said.

“Fortunately, the state and our investor, Raymond James, were able to get comfortable with a long-term ground lease.”

The community was funded using Low Income Housing Tax Credits, commercial debt and local subsidies. The City of St. Petersburg awarded a $90,000 State Housing Initiatives Project (SHIP) loan, and waved a portion of Burlington Place’s municipal impact fees.

“I had traversed this entire community, trying to find places that would accept these vouchers,” Terri Lipsey Scott recalls. “Just by happenstance, I went over to the (Burlington) space. And because they had been delayed in opening, they had spaces available.”

And they accepted the SPHA vouchers.

The Jordan Park residents have settled into their new digs at Burlington Post. “They are ecstatic about the extraordinary living conditions,” Scott said. “It’s a gift.”

The Catch-22 of housing in St. Petersburg – the city’s swelling popularity with new residents means prices are skyrocketing, and there are increasingly fewer affordable options – is something the Green Mill developers, who build homes all over the state, are all too familiar with.

“Unfortunately,” Rosenstein explained, “that’s not unique to the city of St. Petersburg. We see the same phenomenon in Fort Lauderdale. What’s happening in both cities is you don’t have a lot of develop-able land left. It’s pretty well developed. But you have an increasing population, without necessarily increasing wages for the workforce, for the low-income, and for senior citizens.

“To say that confluence of events is bad news for those residents and families would be an understatement. It creates almost a perfect storm, where the existing housing stock is either substandard or too expensive. The new housing stock is overpriced and unattainable for a low-income workforce and seniors.”

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    Johnnie Martin

    December 14, 2018at9:59 pm

    If you have any type of record or eviction regardless if it’s minor and 100 years old you will not get accepted into these apartments which is crazy. How in the world is a person supposed to get up on there feet if no one will give then a chance?

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