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Schools

Old school, new home for teachers?

By PAUL SWIDER
Published July 18, 2007


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As a member of a task force on affordable housing, Don Shea has sat in on lengthy meetings discussing that issue. But it was while sitting at home on his porch that he realized a solution was staring him in the face.

"I thought maybe we could recycle an abandoned schoolhouse in a way that's respectful of the work that's gone on there but also respectful of the neighborhood," said Shea of a plan to convert the old Euclid Elementary School into condominiums and townhomes for teachers.

Shea lives across the street from the school on 10th Street at 10th Avenue N, but he's also the head of the Downtown Partnership.

The idea has moved to the point that Shea is working out details with the Pinellas County School Board and others to make the development a reality, perhaps by next year.

The 1940 two-story school, used mainly for administrative work, sits on about an acre and has a parking lot as well as open space. Though the deal is still in negotiation, Shea's plan is to convert the school building to nine condos and build another dozen or more townhomes on the surrounding property.

Shea estimates the three-bedroom units would sell for $170,000, or half the typical price, because buyers wouldn't own the land, only the unit. The land would be held in a community land trust.

Holding land in a trust would keep the housing affordable because much of the appreciation comes from the increasing value of land. Not only would the initial buyer not need to bear that cost, but resales would not include rising land value. The Euclid project would require that any resales contribute three-quarters of profits back to the trust to discourage profiteering, said Shea.

School superintendent Clayton Wilcox said the deal is complicated because not all teachers would qualify and so there could be legal issues, but he thinks they can be worked out.

In addition, he said, it's important the school not be abandoned, which could be detrimental to a neighborhood, but he's also looking at the trust concept for land the School Board is holding for future schools. It might even apply to schools slated to be closed in the face of declining enrollment.

"It's not just about old properties; it's about new ones, too," Wilcox said. "That's why it's so important we get this right."

Wilcox said the plan may be unique in the country but that he has to explore it as a better use of assets in the face of rising expenses. He said some people may think schools should not be in the housing business, but he feels it's an appropriate community action.

"I think it's a very creative idea," said Dave Metz, the city's deputy mayor for neighborhoods. "What a neat extension of school property to attract educators."

Metz said the city is planning to use the same idea to put some of its property into a land trust, possibly one the county is establishing. That land would include a site near Mercy Hospital, where Habitat for Humanity and Grady Pridgen will be building an affordable-housing development.

The affordable-housing issue applies to many would-be home buyers, but Shea said this arrangement would be aimed at teachers because the property is coming from the school system. The concept could easily be applied to others essential to the community, he said.

Shea said cities could dedicate land for police officers or firefighters, and large employers could do likewise, such as hospitals creating housing for nurses. As governments explore requirements for affordable housing, the concept is also creating a business opportunity.

"Nobody really understands it, so we're setting up a company to do that," said Nick Pavonetti, a former developer who has now created PDC Affordable Housing and its "affordable housing in a box" concept.

Pavonetti would work with the same idea Shea is exploring but bring it to scale when developers face rules that force them to add affordable housing in a community where they want to build a mall or condo tower. He said he may go so far as to create an affordable-housing mitigation bank that would allow developers to simply buy into an affordable development rather than have to create their own each time.

Like Pavonetti's plan, Shea's trust idea could also apply to the private sector, when developers have land that may no longer make sense to develop the way they'd planned.

"It may be very advantageous for them to contribute property," said Shea, noting tax advantages to such donations. "Projects that may have been marginal to begin with might have some new life."

Paul Swider can be reached at 892-2271 or pswider@sptimes.com or by participating in itsyourtimes.com.

[Last modified July 18, 2007, 08:54:37]


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