Home prices inch up and contracts stack up in a neighborhood where a third of the residents live in poverty.
By JON WILSON
Published February 15, 2004
ST. PETERSBURG - Even in neighborhoods considered among the city's rougher ones, people make money selling their homes.
Childs Park is an example.
Bounded by Fifth and 18th avenues S and 34th and 49th streets, the neighborhood has an eclectic array of houses, both ancient and new, sometimes within a few blocks.
Sometimes, the potential is there to make money in dramatic chunks through buying vacant lots or foreclosures, making improvements and reselling.
Longtime homeowners have opportunities to make nice profits, too. For example, a 27-year-old home on 43rd Street S was purchased new for $4,900. County records show its estimated market value as $93,100 now.
But in general, Childs Park home prices have increased at a slower rate than in neighborhoods in other parts of St. Petersburg.
Median prices increased from $45,000 in 1998 to $49,700 in 2003 - about 10 percent, a little less than the inflation rate during that time.
Sales, meanwhile, have shown a general upward trend, particularly after 2001, when the county recorded 69 sales. The count jumped to 93 in 2002 and 112 last year.
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The relatively modest increase in median prices during the past five years doesn't tell all the Childs Park story, however.
Between 1999 and 2002, the median jumped about 42 percent - from $44,350 to $62,900. That bubble is more in line with the experience of more affluent neighborhoods.
It probably was due to new home construction, say city officials and real estate professionals.
"Back about about 1997, '98, '99, there were some large chunks of vacant land," said Mike Dove, a St. Petersburg deputy mayor.
"General Home Development put brand-new houses on it. That substantially raised prices, and it probably brought up the average sales price substantially," Dove said. "When the new (houses) are exhausted, the increases in prices will flatten."
New home construction is one of the elements that makes it difficult to stereotype Childs Park. While some houses date to the 1920s, most of the subdivision was built during the 1940s and 1950s. Many of those homes have been assigned estimated market values in the $50,000 to $80,000 range.
Some of the more expensive sales last year hit high five figures.
Yet other houses have been purchased during the past five years for $20,000 to $30,000.
Some are purchased as investment properties to be repaired and resold or rented.
"They started on handyman specials a long time ago," said Realtor Lou Brown.
Interest in "quick flip" investment properties may have accounted for a surge in sales between 2001 and 2003. That could have driven the number of sales up but median prices down last year.
Some residents believe a high number of rental properties holds back the neighborhood's overall appearance and appeal.
Greg Pierce was the Childs Park Neighborhood Association's president from 1994 to 1996. He has lived there for 20 years, and estimates that about 50 percent of all the houses are rented rather than occupied by owners.
Many, he said, are Section 8 rentals in which payments are government-subsidized.
The owners of Section 8 rentals often don't have a good reputation among many residents who try to improve neighborhoods. The owner is assured of collecting payments but may live in another part of city - or out of the city - and does not have to be especially concerned about property upkeep.
Childs Park also faces challenges not found in many other neighborhoods.
For example, it takes up most of a census tract in which 31 percent of the population lives below the poverty level, according to 2000 census figures.
A mill shop and rock and oil yards are among the rough-hewn elements in the neighborhood's northwest section.
And crime is a problem. Pierce pointed out that the last city homicide of 2003 and the first of 2004 took place in Childs Park. A man was beheaded there in 2002. According to records, police received 5,338 calls for service originating from the neighborhood in 2003, 410 involving possible drug law violations. There were 129 for brawling, 59 for aggravated battery or aggravated assault, two for battery on a police officer and 292 for domestic disputes.
Calls for service don't necessarily mean crimes were committed in the neighborhood; they mean police were called from within it. Still, the numbers suggest part of a difficult picture.
"There were no problems until crack (cocaine) came in in the '80s," said Pierce, the 20-year resident.
But there are some positives. Among them are a growing number of trim homes with well-kept yards. An active, city-run community center provides activity for youngsters. So does the Junior Rattlers football program, whose home is a new sports complex on 43rd Street near Seventh Avenue S. The bright green turf is smooth as a golf putting green, splashing a touch of color near the drab industrial area.