Pinellas Heights resident Nathan Robinson lets his soon-to-be-neighbor Vena Searcy, left, know that she can count on him to help her move into her new home. He has already helped Mary Manier, pictured center, move in.
LARGO – Air Force veteran Nathan B. Robinson had his one-bedroom apartment in Pinellas Heights looking like a model showroom in eight days.
He moved into the fourth floor of the brand new affordable senior housing complex April 23 and unpacked quickly, helping his neighbors get settled in the process.
“Every little lady in here that’s been here two weeks – three weeks – I had something to do with, trying to help them open boxes, taking boxes away,” he said as he leaned in the entryway of his new abode, decorated with an assortment of potted palms and floral prints.
Pinellas Heights resident Mary Manier and Vena Searcy, soon to be moved in, admired the interior design of the rooms. All three had attended the ribbon cutting ceremony earlier in the morning on May 9 and were excited to be a part of the contingent of senior residents moving into the fully-leased, 153-unit property.
“I have seen many housing projects, but I have never seen anything like this,” Robinson said. “To see every piece of material that they have in here – this is well thought out, well thought out. Fine tuning.”
Manier, who moved in the same day Robinson did, said that she would come by the property and take pictures of the construction, ever since she moved back to the county in November to await its opening. She was pleased with the results.
“Oh, it’s a resort, I tell my son and everyone else,” she said. “It’s worth the wait.”
Pinellas Heights, at 11411 Ulmerton Road in Largo, is a project of the Pinellas County Housing Authority, headquartered next door. The authority’s objective was to provide affordable senior housing. Twenty-one of the units are leased to low-income seniors, earning below 60 percent of the county’s median income and 132 to very-low-income seniors, those earning below 50 percent of the median income. Residents will pay 30 percent of their income, whatever that is.
But the fact that it was “low-income” housing didn’t stop the various partners from designing a high quality property, one that will “live beyond your lifetimes,” said Ed Jennings Jr., region IV administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, during the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“That’s the kind of vision we should have. We should be building properties like this, not for the poor people, not for the people on limited income, (but) places I would live in. That should be the standard for all of us,” he said. “These kinds of places are becoming more important.”
Jennings, who originally hails from Tampa, said he was pleased to make the visit in Florida, not only to be home, but also to praise the efforts of a well-run housing authority that spends public funds wisely with the objective of creating community. Many of the speakers heralded the organization’s efficiency and called Pinellas Heights “a shining example of how private-public partnerships work.” Dave Urban, representing a private partner, RBC Capital Markets, said the project turned out so well the company was using pictures of it in one of their ads.
Largo Mayor Pat Gerard called the housing authority’s executive director, Debra Johnson, a “superstar.”
“I’ve been driving by this thing every day for a year and a half, watching it come out of ground like a dream,” she said. “We’re proud to be a partner, and I can’t wait to see what she has next.”
Johnson said she closed the housing authority’s offices so that her staff, arrayed behind her as she spoke, could attend the ceremony.
“This is a big deal for us,” she said.
To conclude her remarks, she introduced Robinson, who not long ago was living in Homeless Emergency Project transitional housing. When she visited Pinellas Heights the other day, “he was already holding a barbeque out back,” she said.
“This is what it’s all about,” she added.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, about a third of the residents were moved in. But Robinson was determined to help the rest. He had already organized a group of other fourth floor residents for the task.
“We are ready to help and assist and whatever,” he said. “Even once you get your place, move your things in, you’re still gonna need to put up pictures and different things. We volunteer to do that for you too. We do all that. That’s the fourth floor.”
He stood on his new balcony overlooking the main entrance of Pinellas Heights, a view he specifically chose. As a former undercover investigator for eventual U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, he intended on helping maintain security for the building, he said.
He promised to help Searcy move in, as she bade him farewell and commented that she was glad he liked his new place.
But he corrected her.
“I love it,” he said. “I don’t ‘like’ nothing. I love this.”