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The rental blues

The rumors. The anxiety. The notice. When apartments go condo or face the wrecking ball, tenants' lives are affected.

By SHERRI DAY
Published February 3, 2006


[Times photo: Ken Helle]
The court yard entrance at Harbour Place City Homes.
Harbour Place City Homes representative Henderson Everett Lee and Yvette Boggs show one of the models to realtor Brian McBride and his client Kim Isner . They went on to tour some of the available units at Harbour Place City Homes on Harbour Island.

SOUTH TAMPA - Increasingly, tenants view rental housing as a rare gem as large numbers of local apartments become condominiums.

One of the most recent condo conversions is Harbour Place City Homes, the new name for the first phase of Post Harbour Place apartments. The units came on the market about two weeks ago, and already brokers report brisk sales.

The redevelopment boom has hit less tony communities too, including Georgetown Apartments off West Shore Boulevard and Rembrandt Gardens, a public housing complex near Robinson High School.

At the center of the conversion commotion are tenants, who must decide whether to buy their units or move. It's a daunting decision for many renters who can't afford to buy and fear a scarcity of rentals in South Tampa.

But the mortgage-shy may find a silver lining.

"You'll probably see quite a few (condos) that will turn into rental units," said Brad Monroe, president of the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors. "A lot of the people that bought as investors are not going to sell."

Here are the stories of a few people feeling the effects of the conversion craze.

* * *

Bea Kay, Georgetown Apartments

Bea Kay's townhouse holds nearly 40 years worth of memories.

Pictures of her children and grandchildren line the walls.

Orange trees, planted long ago when she and her husband were new to Tampa, stand tall in the back yard.

Kay is 85. The white clapboard townhouse has been her home since September 1966.

She can't remember the dimensions of the three-bedroom, three-bathroom unit. But Kay knows it has always been large enough to accommodate 11 overnight guests at once, to host bridge games with her girlfriends, to provide a quiet sanctuary seemingly miles away from the hustle and bustle of West Shore Boulevard, just outside Georgetown Apartments' gates.

Recently, Kay got word that Georgetown would meet a wrecking ball. Developers bought the property for $125-million in April. Early plans call for a new community of single-family homes, townhouses and condos with price tags Kay expects to exceed her budget.

For now, Kay and other Georgetown residents know little about their fate. Developers must still design the community and meet city infrastructure codes. It's a process that could take months, even years, Kay surmises. So she dare not pack.

"If I'm 85 and they don't do anything till I'm 87, I might not be around," she said, "so why should I move?"

Yet Kay, who is incredibly spry, acknowledges that she will likely need to look for other housing. She wants to stay in South Tampa close to restaurants, movie theaters and her volunteer work.

"I imagine one day I'll get something in the mail saying you have to be out by six months," she said. "When I get that letter, I'll start looking. And I'll do it in earnest."

* * *

Jaime Brown, Harbour Place City Homes

Jaime Brown got her letter in early January. It informed her that part of Post Harbour Place, the luxury apartment complex at 501 Knights Run Ave., would soon convert to condominiums.

Brown, who has lived at Post since last spring, rejoiced. It was the moment she'd been waiting for.

"Condo conversions are the biggest thing happening right now," said Brown, 27. "For anyone to be living in an apartment and think that it won't happen to them, they're fooling themselves."

Less than 24 hours after she got her letter, Brown met with brokers and laid out her demands. She wanted to upgrade to a three-bedroom, three-bath unit with a balcony and loads of closet space.

"For two girls in their 20s, that's important," said Brown, who lives with her younger sister. "That's one thing that (I) couldn't find anywhere."

Brown moved to Tampa from Sarasota last spring. She works in Bradenton selling new homes for a developer. Brown says Tampa's nightlife and culture makes her 40-minute commute worthwhile. From her apartment on Harbour Island, she can walk to Channelside and feed her hockey jones at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Always purchase-minded, Brown signed only a seven-month lease at Post. She hoped the rumors she had heard about the property's possible condo conversion were true. Last week, Brown completed the contract on her new home. She plans to close in the spring.

Already, visions of new cherry wood cabinets and tile floors dance in her head. She's also thinking about getting a dog.

* * *

Jessie L. Gilbert, Rembrandt Gardens

Jessie Gilbert's search for housing seems never ending. She packs and moves and packs and moves, always with her belongings and three grandchildren in tow.

First, in February 2000, the family left Ponce de Leon Court for Robles Park Village. Four months later, they landed at C. Blythe Andrews. In September 2001, the family set up house in Rembrandt Gardens on Lois Avenue. This time, they didn't bother to unpack all their boxes.

Massive redevelopment of Tampa's public housing communities routinely pushes Gilbert to new locales. The Tampa Housing Authority has been remodeling or replacing some of the city's most outdated public housing communities. In many cases, the new communities are mixed-income housing.

The Housing Authority plans to demolish Rembrandt and erect a multi-income apartment community across the street. So Gilbert plans to move once again. This time, she wants a house big enough to accommodate her three grandsons.

"It's a big mess when you're trying to find the right place to go and you don't have the right income," said Gilbert, 62. "And they're rushing me now."

Gilbert and the remaining 40 families at Rembrandt should have been out of their apartments this week. Because the tenants did not meet that deadline, the Housing Authority recently extended their stay until March.

Like Gilbert, most of the residents want to live in private houses. But the pool of desirable Section 8 housing is slim, Gilbert said.

She would like something close to elementary and high schools, amenities for Ira, 6, and Christopher, 16. Her oldest grandson, Cedric, wants to live close to a No. 9 bus stop so he can commute to Robinson High School until he graduates in the spring.

Mostly, Gilbert wants something permanent.

"Wherever I (move), I want to die there," she said. "I'm sick and tired of moving."

She might get her wish. Gilbert found a three-bedroom house on Avon Avenue in Tampa Heights this week. It's white with red trim and overlooks a pond near Robles Park.

* * *

Bing Hampton, the Mirasol

A two-year resident of the Mirasol on Davis Islands, Bing Hampton regularly checks county property records.

In them, he hopes to find the answer to questions on the minds of many Mirasol residents.

Has the building been sold? Is condo conversion near?

Residents got letters in December informing them of the owner's plans to sell.

Hampton, 49, was stoic.

"You can't get upset about it because it's something that's totally out of your control," he said.

Instead, he got busy. He started scouring Davis Islands for apartments. He recently put his name on the waiting list for a nearby apartment.

But he may not have to move any time soon. Mirasol's management recently began advertising apartments again, a move that suggests the building's possible sale and condo conversion may have stalled, Hampton said.

"It could be at least six months before anything happens," he said. "That kind of takes the pressure off."

Unnerved, some Mirasol residents have moved out. But Hampton wants to stay as long as possible. He appreciates his quaint one-bedroom apartment, the Mirasol's 1920s architecture, its pool and boat slips.

He owned a home in Palma Ceia for 24 years before moving into the Mirasol. He has no immediate desire to own again.

"I'm really enjoying renting right now," he said. "I don't have to worry about the roof or the air conditioner or the refrigerator."

Sherri Day can be reached at sday@sptimes.com or 813 226-3405.

CONVERSIONS

Here are a few apartment complexes going condo.

- Post Harbour Place, phase one - Conversion of the 206-unit complex at 501 Knights Run Ave. began in January. Prices range from $190,000 to $435,000. Call 225-1600.

- Island Club at Rocky Point - Formerly the Bay Club Apartments at 2801 N Rocky Point Drive, the Island Club began its conversion in early January. The complex has 138 units ranging from $180,000 to $330,000. Brokers also expect to convert the neighboring 150-unit Bay Club. Call 287-2582.

- The Preserve at South Tampa - Formerly the Arbour House Apartment Homes, the 55-unit complex at 5440 S MacDill Ave. will begin conversion in March. Prices start at about $160,000. Call 839-5000.

- Melrose Court I & II - Conversion of Melrose Court I, a 56-unit complex at 115 S Lois Ave., and Melrose Court II, a 52-unit complex at 3909 W Cleveland St., began in January. Prices range from $140,000 to the $180,000s. Call 322-3873.

[Last modified February 2, 2006, 11:26:03]


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