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District to seek grant for housing
The School Board will apply for a state grant of up to $5-million to build 50 affordable townhomes.
By JEFFERY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published December 19, 2007
LAND O'LAKES - Despite some initial concerns, the Pasco School Board unanimously agreed Tuesday to pursue a state grant to build affordable work force housing for district employees.
The state must receive applications by the end of January. It will announce recipients by the end of June.
Superintendent Heather Fiorentino introduced the idea of offering affordable work force housing this fall. She said the cost of housing in Pasco has risen faster than salaries go up, making it difficult to recruit and retain teachers and other district employees.
So she recommended seeking a state grant of up to $5-million to support development of about 50 townhomes on about 4 acres adjacent to Marlowe Elementary in New Port Richey. The district's contribution would be the land.
Fiorentino called it a "win-win" scenario at the time she initially discussed it.
Her administration brought in a Pinellas firm, PDC Affordable Housing, to help write the grant. The group, along with representatives of General Home Development of Dade City, presented the concept at a recent workshop.
Tom Smith, head of General Home Development, made the case again Tuesday night.
He explained that the program would allow employees to own a townhome valued around $209,000 for roughly half that amount. He added that the concern about whether the workers can afford the initial payment would be addressed, as the program includes down payment assistance.
"If they give that money to somebody, why not Pasco County?" he said of the grant.
State Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, also urged the board to participate. If they have problems with the underlying legislation, Weatherford said, the board members should tell him so he can bring them up during session.
Board members Allen Altman and Frank Parker were sold on the project from the start.
"It's $5-million of money for our employees that if we don't take advantage of it, it will go somewhere else," Altman said.
Parker called it an "out of the box" solution to help employees.
"I do think it's a really creative out-of-the-box solution to a problem, but it's a problem that isn't here in Pasco County," she said.
Despite her many misgivings, Starkey cast her support with the program to give it a chance.
Board member Marge Whaley, who said she came to the meeting opposed to the concept, also gained comfort through the discussions. She voted for the grant application, too. She cautioned that this project could not substitute for more substantial ways to recruit and retain teachers.
"We have got to get our salaries up," Whaley said. "This is just one little piece."
In other business, the board approved the transfer of two veteran administrators to new principal positions. Donna Busby, principal of Moon Lake Elementary, will lead Veterans Elementary in Wesley Chapel. And Chris Christoff, principal of Seven Springs Middle, will take over Crews Lake Middle.