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Housing projects identified

Officials propose that Largo use $600, 000 this year to create affordable housing.

By KAMEEL STANLEY
Published June 27, 2007


LARGO - The city has identified three potential affordable housing projects to tackle with its share of the county's $10-million housing trust fund.

Housing officials propose that Largo use its chunk of the fund - about $600, 000 this year - to buy and develop parcels near downtown on Fourth Avenue NE in the 200 block of Fifth Street NW and in the Yachthaven Estates neighborhood.

In all, the projects would create eight new affordable housing units, six of them in the Fourth Street project.

"Like everybody else, we need housing for our work force, " said Matt Anderson, Largo's housing manager.

On Tuesday night, city commissioners said they were excited about the proposal, and praised Anderson for his creative use of funds.

"You have our support, " said Mayor Pat Gerard. "I like the fact that we can do things and sell them and get the money back."

More than half of Largo's allocation, about $326, 000, would go toward the Fourth Avenue project, which was proposed by the nonprofit Largo Area Housing Development Corp.

The project involves buying about two-thirds of an acre over several lots in the Roosevelt Groves neighborhood and demolishing the existing structures on the property - five mobile homes, two cottages and an old house.

Then the nonprofit group would build three two-unit villas, reimbursing the fund for the money spent to acquire the land.

The property, in the 400 and 500 blocks of Fourth Avenue NE, is owned by John and Pauline Marine, who recently moved to South Carolina.

Five families currently live in the mobile homes. Largo officials plan to help them find new accommodations, providing them with moving and rent assistance. They also would have the first chance at applying to qualify for buying the new homes.

The total project is expected to take 18 to 24 months to complete.

For the other two projects, in Fifth Street NW and Yachthaven Estates, the city would buy single parcels of land for about $75, 000 each and demolish any existing structures.

The land would then be sold to a nonprofit that would construct new homes.

This is first wave of projects under the Pinellas County's Housing Trust Fund, which was created late last year.

The need for affordable housing has jumped because of increasing home prices, said Bruce Bussey, urban development manager for Pinellas County.

And uncertainty about future state funding led Pinellas County to try a new approach, he said.

"It's unique for a local government to directly fund affordable housing, " he said.

In addition to Largo, officials have said the county will get $4.3-million from the fund; Clearwater, $937, 000; and St. Petersburg, $2.12-million. At least 15 percent of the money must be used to serve residents with special needs or very low incomes. Eighty percent has to be earmarked for loans that will eventually be paid back to the trust fund.

The fund is designed to be a supplement for projects that are also getting funding from a mixture of state and federal housing programs.

That jump-start is crucial, Anderson said, since most sources want to see existing funding before adding their own funding.

"Getting it started is usually the hardest part, " he said. "We just try to get the ball rolling and then the neighborhood will start doing it on their own."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@sptimes.com or 445-4158.