Pandemic doesn’t stop Habitat for Humanity from building hope for families

Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties has this roughly 8-acre piece of undeveloped property under contract on the south side of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue between Clearwater-Largo Road and Missouri Avenue in Largo. The group hopes to build up to 60 units on the property.

LARGO — A change in the city’s code regarding affordable housing has cleared the path for a Habitat for Humanity development in northwest Largo.

The nonprofit has a roughly 8-acre piece of undeveloped property under contract on the south side of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue between Clearwater-Largo Road and Missouri Avenue.

The goal is to transform the site bordering both Belleair and Clearwater into a mixed-income subdivision with about 60 single-family homes, Sean King, director of government relations for Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties, told city commissioners earlier this month.

The group hit a roadblock, however, because the city’s comprehensive development code only allows for 30% of the units on the site to be affordable housing.

Commissioners removed that roadblock Sept. 15 when they unanimously voted to amend the code and allow certain areas to have up to 70% affordable housing. If projects meet other criteria, even more affordable housing could be allowed.

“We’re in due diligence of a parcel that’s potentially about 60 single-family homes for residents of Largo that we think will go a long way, especially for that local community,” King said. “Without this amendment, that project will not be moving forward.”

Before the change was made, Mayor Woody Brown asked how the city’s code compared with neighboring municipalities.

“This code, quite honestly and candidly, is antiquated. It dates back to the 90s,” King said. “… We support mixed income, but 30% is super restrictive.”

He added that, for Habitat, the term affordable housing really refers to workforce housing and that 80% of the average median income for a single parent with two children is about $45,000 a year.

“Think of how many Largo residents or the residents of Pinellas County alone fit that,” he said. “So that’s what we’re really talking about, and the definitions have changed over the years. So this is really bringing it up to a closer standard.”

Property tax rate to remain same

Commissioners voted 5-1 to keep the ad valorem tax rate at 5.62 mills.

For residents with a homesteaded property with a taxable value of just over $98,000, which is the average in Largo, maintaining the rate means they would pay an additional $19 next year.

Thanks to an 8.19% increase in the city’s total taxable property values, the current rate will still generate just over $2.2 million in additional revenue for the general fund.

Commissioner Curtis Holmes, who voted against the rate, said his taxes would go up $16 this year.

“So, you say, big deal, what’s $16?” he said. “Well, how much was it last time? Another $16. And the time before that?”

Holmes said the increases are adding up and the pandemic is another reason the city should lower the rate.

“My only objection to this thing is we’re cooking the frog,” he said. “As you keep adding a few dollars here and a few dollars there, we say, ‘Eh, this doesn’t look like much.’ Most of the folks out there, that’s going to make a difference to them.”

Commissioner John Carroll disagreed and said maintaining the tax rate allows the city build its reserves, which has been a stated goal of the commission.

“I think we’re doing a lot of great things in this city,” he said. “I think we’re sticking to our strategic plan. I see opportunities in the future. Although nobody’s ever going to believe, if we get to where we want to be, we could look at a millage rate reduction.”

There was no disagreement when commissioners unanimously voted to adopt the city’s $187.5 million budget for fiscal year 2021.

The budget is a 7.58% increase over last year and includes $96 million in the general fund.

Highlights include an increase in spending in the police department budget, rescheduling the Central Park 25th anniversary celebration, and 4% salary increases for employees.

Image courtesy of the CITY OF LARGO

Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties has this roughly 8-acre piece of undeveloped property under contract on the south side of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue between Clearwater-Largo Road and Missouri Avenue in Largo. The group hopes to build up to 60 units on the property.