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Affordable housing too pricey for city

Tarpon Springs officials say they can't afford to cut builders of low-cost housing any slack.

By ELENA LESLEY
Published July 15, 2007


Tarpon Springs Housing Authority is looking to redevelop some affordable housing projects in the city, including this one on Lime Street. Representatives recently went before the commission hoping to have impact fees waived, but so far the commission's response hasn't been positive.
photo
[Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]
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TARPON SPRINGS - The rows of faded, matter-of-fact apartments that make up Mango Circle aren't much to look at.

But more than 600 people would love to call the decades-old facility home.

"The need is just so great for affordable housing," said Pat Weber, executive director of the Tarpon Springs Housing Authority. A city waiting list stretches hundreds of names long for buildings that are "coming down around our ears," she said.

Weber has a plan to start addressing the countywide need. Over the next five years, the Tarpon Springs authority plans to redevelop 70 of the city's 225 public-housing units and build an additional 190 mixed-income affordable-housing rentals.

But she's not sure yet where all the money is coming from. And as her presentation at a recent City Commission meeting showed, trying to get breaks for affordable housing is never easy.

"Everyone I go to says, 'We don't have the money, we don't have the money,' " Weber told commissioners after they said they probably couldn't waive impact fees for the redevelopment.

The story is the same everywhere in built-out Pinellas County, where new condos are replacing crumbling public-housing units and the homeless population continues to grow.

Local governments know there's a critical need for affordable housing. But will they pay for it?

Some, like City Manager Ellen Posivach, say they can't.

Tarpon Springs does not have a history of waiving impact fees, she told Weber, and with property tax revenue cuts looming, the city can't afford that kind of gesture.

Weber pointed out that Pinellas County offers reimbursements to developers for impact fees on affordable-housing projects.

Though Mayor Beverley Billiris said the city might be able to explore other options, alternative plans for financial relief remain abstract.

Posivach's advice to the commission isn't.

"I cannot recommend any relief on impact fees," Posivach said of what she will tell commissioners when the issue comes back at a meeting in late August. "There's no other source of funding."

The authority's plan also requires the city to allow higher density development than is currently zoned on at least three sites. The commission's response to that was more encouraging. Commissioners said they could probably approve such a measure to accommodate more affordable-housing units.

The Housing Authority has already remodeled public housing at the intersection of Lime and Boyer streets, and plans to tackle ambitious redevelopment over a five-year period. The itinerary: build mixed-income units in the Lime and Boyer area, as well as demolish, rebuild and expand projects on Morgan Street and Mango Circle.

All of this new housing will be mixed-income. While public housing was originally intended to "help people get back on their feet," Weber said, it eventually became "the worst housing of last resort."

That reality forced a policy shift in federal funding for housing. The federal government no longer provides money for construction of public housing, but a number of different funding sources - including low-cost loans from the state - are available for mixed-income developments geared to providing affordable housing across a community's lower-income spectrum.

"More mixed-income makes for a healthier development," Weber said. "It's good for people to be around different kinds of people."

With the density bonus, 36 units would be built at the Lime and Boyer property, the Morgan Street development would go to 44 units from 10, and Mango Circle would go to 180 units from 60.

But Weber is still hoping she'll get some relief for impact fees, which she estimated could be $5,000 to $7,000 per new unit, to make the redevelopment financially viable.

"To build affordable housing, developers need all the help they can get," she said.

She hopes that if the commission passes an ordinance waiving impact fees, the exemption would apply to other affordable developments coming into the city.

"I can see their point about impact fees, but I think it would be shortsighted of them not to do it," she said.

Elena Lesley can be reached at elesley@sptimes.com or 727 445-4167.

[Last modified July 14, 2007, 21:06:50]


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