Pinellas moves forward on affordable housing projects

An artist’s rendering of Blue Dolphin Tower, a new project at 610 Franklin St. in Clearwater is an 81 multi-family affordable apartment units restricted for use to households making 80% AMI.

CLEARWATER — Pinellas County commissioners said yes to $5 million in funding for two affordable housing projects Feb. 8.

The money is part of $80 million from the Penny for Pinellas surtax committed to affordable and workforce housing over the next 10 years.

Commission Chair Charlie Justice pointed out that back in 2017 when the county asked voters to approve another decade of Penny for Pinellas collections, the need for affordable housing was the most talked about issue. Voters approved the referendum by 83%.

“We took a step today to make sure 177 families in Pinellas County would have a better opportunity to have a place to call home,” he said, adding that voters had asked for funding for more affordable housing and that’s what the commission was committed to provide.

The next steps will be completion of additional due diligence including property appraisals, title searches, loan underwriting and financial analysis. Funding agreements, leases, loan documents and restrictions based on affordability will be prepared, negotiated and executed when due diligence has been completed as determined by the county administrator.

The first funding recommendation was $4 million to pay for land acquisition and construction costs for Seminole Square Apartments by Archway Partners, 2075 Seminole Blvd. in Largo. It is a new project consisting of 96 multi-family affordable apartments with 48 one-bedroom, one bath units and 48 two-bedroom, one bath units. It will be restricted to households earning at or below 80% Area Median Income (AMI), or $39,400 for a single-person household and $56,250 for a four-person household.

Thirty-four of the units will be restricted to households making 30% AMI, 11 units restricted to 60% AMI, plus eight units reserved for veterans.

Project cost is estimated to be just over $27.55 million. Besides the $4 million from Penny for Pinellas, nearly $10.76 million will come from multi-family revenue bonds, $10.2 million from JP Morgan private mortgage, $610,000 for the city of Largo and $1.985 million in deferred developer fees.

The second project is Blue Dolphin Tower by Blue Sky Communities, 610 Franklin St. in Clearwater. Blue Dolphin also is a new project. It consists of 81 multi-family affordable apartment units restricted for use to households making 80% AMI. Thirteen units will be restricted to 30% AMI and 56 units to 60% AMI.

Staff recommended allocating $2,050 million for land acquisition with $1 million in grant funds from the State Housing Initiatives Partnership and $1,050 million from Penny for Pinellas. Total cost of the project is estimated to be $28.1 million. Other sources of funding include low-income housing tax credit equity, Raymond James Private Mortgage, city of Clearwater and deferred developer fees.

The Blue Dolphin site was formerly a fire station. The property was purchased by the city of Clearwater’s Community Redevelopment area for use for affordable housing. The money from the county and the State Housing Initiatives Partnership will provide the funds needed to cover the $2.4 million appraisal cost.

Commissioner Karen Seel and Dave Eggers wanted to know why Clearwater had not just made the land an in-kind contribution to the project. Amanda Thompson, director of Clearwater’s Community Redevelopment Agency, said the property was owned by the CRA, not the city. Clearwater will contribute $2.4 million to the project. The money the CRA will receive for the former fire station property is already budgeted for two additional affordable housing projects, she said, adding that the funding for the two additional projects had not yet been approved by the city council.

Seel and Eggers wanted to require the city to contribute $2 million to affordable housing in exchange for receiving Penny funds. County Attorney Jewel White said making that requirement as part of the deal for Blue Dolphin wasn’t possible. Justice suggested asking the city to make affordable housing priority use of the money.

Pinellas has committed $23.4 million of Penny IV funding thus far toward 1,197 housing units, including 884 affordable homes. Eight more applications are under review.

Staff is tracking funding as it is approved. The goal is to quickly allocate as much money as possible to meet the growing need for affordable housing. Justice said not much had happened to make things drastically better since voters approved the current Penny collections.

The Feb. 8 funding approvals represents an investment of $5 million of the $80 million committed by the Penny for Pinellas for the decade, Justice said.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.