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Developer delays plan for rentals

By ALEX LEARY

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2001


CRYSTAL RIVER -- A Tampa company's plan for an affordable housing complex north of Crystal River Mall has been delayed for at least a year until funding is available from the county.

The Wilson Co. had planned to build as many as 220 apartments on a 20-acre lot this fall, with the goal of moving people into the units during summer 2002. But the company's $14-million plan hinged on obtaining assistance from the county.

That money is not available this year. The county receives state housing funds each year but money for rental housing development has been committed to Heron Woods in northern Inverness, just west of Turner Camp Road.

Tom Webster, the county's director of housing services, said funding will be requested in the new budget cycle, which begins July 1.

Under the State Housing Initiatives Partnerships program, the money cannot go to a specific project, Webster said, so Wilson would have to compete with other bidders should money become available.

"We're open to the project," Webster said. "There certainly is a great need for affordable housing in Citrus County."

The development company, one of Florida's largest, is only seeking a fraction of the cost from the county, up to $300,000. It also plans to ask Crystal River for assistance.

Wilson vice president Chris Bowers said the company needs to illustrate community involvement to qualify for federal assistance.

Ideally, the company would like $150,000 each from the two local governments, either in the form of low-interest loans or breaks on utilities.

Under a federal program administered by the Florida Housing Finance Corp., qualifying developers are eligible for tax credits if they set aside a portion of the apartments for low-income residents.

More than $200-million has been allocated since the program started in 1987. The Wilson Co. would sell its credits to a bank, giving the developer about $7-million, according to Bowers.

"If you don't get local government contributions you might as well not proceed because you won't score enough points to qualify for the credits," Bowers said.

If the project gets off the ground, construction could begin in fall 2002 and the apartments would be ready about seven months later, Bowers said.

The for-profit company, which has more than 20 developments in Florida, would build one- two- and three-bedroom apartments, which would rent for $400, $500 and $600 per month.

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