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Suncoast Housing, Clearwater partner on mortgage assistance program

Margie Manning



Suncoast Housing Connections broke ground on Feb. 9 for an affordable housing development in south St. Petersburg.

Suncoast Housing Connections, a nonprofit agency that is building affordable homes in south St. Petersburg, has unveiled a new partnership with the city of Clearwater, to help homeowners who could be at risk of losing their homes when a federal moratorium on foreclosures expires at the end of June.

Suncoast, which recently changed its name from Tampa Bay Community Development Corp., is partnering with Clearwater on an emergency assistance program for residents who are behind on their mortgage and utility payments due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Clearwater emergency assistance program is for residents who have a household income lower than 80 percent of the area median income, according to a news release. For a family of four, that’s $56,250 or less.

The city will give residents up to $7,500 and Suncoast will work with the homeowner and the company servicing their home loan to develop a workout plan, said Fran Pheeny, Suncoast president and CEO.

Suncoast is gearing up for what is expected to be a bigger effort.

“The state of Florida got funding for this and we’re waiting to see how that funding will be distributed,” Pheeny said.

Last week, the federal Consumer Finance Protection Bureau told mortgage servicers to be ready.

“There is a tidal wave of distressed homeowners who will need help from their mortgage servicers in the coming months. Responsible servicers should be preparing now. There is no time to waste, and no excuse for inaction. No one should be surprised by what is coming,” Dave Uejio, acting director of the CFPB, said in a news release.

“We’re internally getting prepared for a high number of people who will need assistance with workouts with their servicers because they are so many months behind once the foreclosure moratorium ends at the end of June,” Pheeny said.

Affordable homes

Suncoast, which provides homebuyer education and counseling for low-to-moderate income households, also develops real estate and has started construction on the first six of 14 homes it plans to build in south St. Petersburg.

“When we have our homebuyer education class, the most frequent question we are asked is, where can I find a house I can afford. So we tell them these houses are coming soon and it helps people get focused and say, OK I need to sit down with a counselor and make sure I am ready and eligible for these houses when the construction is done,” Pheeny said.

Related: Bank of America, Suncoast Housing Connections work to expand access to home ownership

The homes are being built on lots acquired through the city’s lot disposition program as well as lots donated by a local landowner, Pheeny said.

The three-bedroom, two-bath homes, each more than 1,200 square feet, will include energy efficient features, kitchens with wood cabinets and granite counters, and front porches and stone accents that will bring character to the neighborhood. The first six homes will sell for around $225,000.

“We don’t know what the costs of the second group will be yet because construction costs are going through the roof right now. We’ll determine that once we sign a contract with a general contractor to build the rest,” Pheeny said.

The sale of the first six homes will finance construction of the second phase, she said.

The homes will be sold to individuals and families with household income up to 120 percent of area median income, or AMI.

“Because of the city of St. Petersburg’s really great down payment assistance program, which helps people up to 80 percent of AMI, we were trying to keep the purchase price at a level so people at 80 percent of AMI will be able to afford it. For people over that, we didn’t want to say you can’t buy the house. But we know that people at 80 percent of AMI, if they are mortgage ready, will be able to purchase,” she said.

Helping homebuyers find affordable housing is more important now than ever, Pheeny said.

“It’s a hard issue locally, statewide and nationally but it’s very hard in Pinellas because finding land to develop for affordable housing is so difficult. Land costs are really high,” she said. “But even in communities that are not as built out, it’s an issue due to the disparity between stagnant incomes versus escalating real estate costs.”

Closer look: Name change

Suncoast Housing Connections, which serves up to 1,500 people a year, was founded as Tampa Bay Community Development Corp. in 1982.

The name change was effective March 31.

“The decision to change our name was a difficult and lengthy process, and one that our we took very seriously,” Karl Nurse, board chairman, said in a news release. “Changing a name that has been in the community for close to 40 years is risky. Our hope is that by rebranding, we will reach and serve more people who may not have known about our services.”

The new name more clearly reflects the area the agency serves, what it does and how it does it, said Fran Pheeny, president and CEO.

The organization’s Clearwater and New Port Richey locations, staff and services will remain the same.

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