School housing idea may be just a thought

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published December 5, 2007

LAND O'LAKES - A proposal to bring affordable "work force housing" to Pasco County for school employees might not ever get past the talking stage.

The Pasco School Board delayed action Monday on superintendent Heather Fiorentino's recommendation to seek a $5-million state grant that would support construction of 50 homes for school district employees who meet the income requirements. The reason, chairwoman Kathryn Starkey said, was to have the full board weigh in on the concept.

Only three members - Starkey, vice chairman Frank Parker and Marge Whaley - attended Monday's session.

But with Cathi Martin out until early 2008, the best the board can hope for is Allen Altman's return to the dais. And if Starkey and Whaley maintain their current opposition to the concept, Altman's vote won't matter much. A 2-2 tie doesn't advance an issue.

In separate interviews Tuesday, Whaley and Starkey expressed misgivings about the idea of donating 4 acres of district land to secure the state grant for housing.

"I'm not sure this is going to be the answer," Whaley said.

She said that board candidate Peter Hanzel, who is seeking to replace Whaley after she retires next year, made some good points when he spoke against the housing plan Monday.

Hanzel noted that the property in question, adjacent to Marlowe Elementary in New Port Richey, is surrounded by affordable housing already. Also, he said, the district's own survey indicated that one of the biggest hurdles to home ownership among district employees is the ability to make the first payment, something that adding new housing to the market will not solve.

Starkey said much the same, mentioning that her family has researched affordable housing as part of its planned development nearby and found an "abundance" already exists.

"It doesn't appear to me that the need is here yet," she said, suggesting the bigger demand is in down payment assistance.

Parker, by contrast, said he saw nothing wrong with applying for the grant and trying to help district employees with their housing needs.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614.