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County considers $30M for housing

Published May 24, 2006

CLEARWATER - The County Commission last year asked development director Anthony Jones for ways to help local workers priced out of the housing market.

Tuesday, Jones proposed one: Earmark $30-million next year for a community housing trust fund.

The money could create 300 to 400 below-market housing units over the next two years, about half of them rentals, Jones estimates.

Commissioners, who have made grappling with the affordable housing crunch a signature objective, reacted favorably but were unwilling to commit to the full amount.

"It's a bold request that deserves serious consideration,'' said Commissioner Bob Stewart. "We'll see.''

Jones, who made the proposal during a budget workshop, wants to jump-start the community housing trust fund the commission created in March.

Housing trust funds have gained popularity recently as local governments try to fill a gap created by stagnant wage growth and soaring home costs.

A beginning teacher in Pinellas, for instance, would have to earn more than twice the starting salary of $34,000 to buy a home at the area's median price of $220,000 and still meet state and federal guidelines.

According to the guidelines, a home or rental can't exceed 30 percent of a family's income and be considered affordable.

Like taxes collected on property transfers and disbursed by the state for housing programs, trust fund cash would be split between St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Largo and the county.

The four governments spent about $14.5-million in state and federal money on housing programs last year.

Jones says the $30-million, to come from Pinellas taxpayers, could be used to induce developers to build below-market housing, renovate existing affordable stock and provide down payment aid to home buyers.

To qualify for the aid, developers and nonprofits would need to match pay-outs from the fund by at least 2-to-1. The county Housing Finance Authority would review proposals.

At least 15 percent of the fund money would go to support those who have little or no money coming in, like the homeless.

The upper threshold of eligibility is 120 percent of area median income, which for a family of four in Pinellas is about $65,280 this year.

Jones said the money is a one-time shot in the arm to get the fund up and running. It's enough to make headway, but much less than what's needed.

"Ideally,'' he said, "we would have $90-million to make a real dent.''

In August, the commission will consider several ways to fund the housing initiative.

Also Tuesday, commissioners learned that property values jumped more than expected.

If the tax rate stays the same, the projected increase would mean property revenues might exceed $473-million next year. They were expected to be around $430-million.

Board members like Stewart, though still reluctant to embrace the full $30-million for affordable housing, said the extra money will make it easier to justify.

The commission finalizes its budget in September after public hearings.


Who could benefit from the housing trust fund? Below are the starting salaries for some Pinellas workers. All would be eligible for housing that the fund would help make available. The eligibility cap is 120 percent of the area's median income, which for a family of four in Pinellas is about $65,280.

- Starting teacher: $34,000

- Starting sheriff's deputy: $38,173

- Starting social worker with the county's Human Services department: $30,084.

[Last modified May 24, 2006, 04:27:04]

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