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    A Times Editorial

    City makes right move on housing complex

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 25, 2002

    It is a good sign when a city is able to open its doors and arms to people who have little money or prestige. That's what Largo did last week.

    The Pinellas County Housing Authority wants to purchase the Ashley Crossing apartment complex off Rosery Road and turn it into affordable housing for families earning 60 to 80 percent of the area's median income ($47,700).

    The complex of 278 apartments was built in 1969 and has long been a problem property. Previous owners did not maintain the complex properly, and today few people live there. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development foreclosed on the property in 2000 after a would-be developer defaulted on a loan.

    Even though Ashley Crossing is an eyesore that does nothing for the area, some residents of nearby single-family homes have been worried about "public housing" moving into their neighborhood. About 25 residents attended a public discussion of the proposal at last week's Largo City Commission work session, and some of them voiced their fears about the kinds of people who would live there and how well the property would be managed.

    Housing Authority official Angel Tua tried to allay those fears by explaining that the old image of run-down, crime-ridden public housing projects is not what his agency has in mind at Ashley Crossing.

    A transforming new philosophy has swept the field of public housing in recent years. Today, housing authorities often preside over properties that don't look any different from market-price complexes. They may have numerous amenities, be lushly landscaped and even have security. An example is the Hampton at Clearwater on McMullen-Booth Road, a luxury apartment complex that was purchased by the Clearwater Housing Authority in 1993 and converted to housing for people over age 55.

    It isn't unusual anymore for a housing authority to take ownership of a complex that was trashed by a previous private owner and so improve it that unsuspecting people who don't meet the low-income guidelines seek apartments there.

    Changed as well is the type of customer served by housing authorities in such complexes. It is a reality of today's economy that many of those who live in affordable housing managed by housing authorities are people we would not have expected to qualify: teachers, firefighters, police officers, other government workers, retired professionals. The people who live in Ashley Crossing will pay from $459 to $797 a month in rent.

    Largo commissioners listened to the information Tua provided at last week's meeting. They let concerned residents ask questions and get answers. Then they gave a nod to the Housing Authority's purchase of the property. The commission will have to take a final vote early next month.

    Commissioners did the right thing by providing a forum where information and concerns could be shared, then moving ahead based on the information that was provided by housing officials. Their calm, rational approach is especially laudatory considering the knock-down-drag-out fight going on in Oldsmar over construction of an affordable housing complex by a private developer.

    But there is nothing wrong with commissioners attaching reasonable conditions to their approval of the purchase to make the neighbors more comfortable and reduce problems down the road. For example, commissioners might insist that the Housing Authority meet or exceed the city's landscaping requirements or provide security or fencing.

    There is a great need for affordable housing in Pinellas County, where not everyone can afford to buy a house or pay high market rents. If properly managed, such housing can be a point of pride for residents who live there and for the surrounding neighborhoods.

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