LARGO — Pinellas County commissioners gave unanimous approval Jan. 12 to staff’s recommendation to fund four Penny for Pinellas affordable housing program applications.

Approval is contingent on completion of due diligence that the projects follow the program guidelines.

The approval includes delegation of authority to County Administrator Barry Burton to negotiate contracts, loan documents, leases, restrictive covenants and any other such agreements and documents associated with the application approvals in the amounts authorized by the commissioners. Burton also has the authority to direct Housing Finance Authority to acquire properties using funding for affordable housing land acquisition.

Eighteen applications were received for the program and four were recommended for approval by staff based on scoring evaluations and project readiness. Additional applications may be recommended for approval within the next 90 days.

Commissioners discussed the difference between affordable and work force housing and the concern of the group Faith and Action for Strength Together that the majority of the funding goes toward affordable housing. However, state law dictates how Penny money can be used and there must be a “nexus” with economic development, meaning it is important to have a portion of funding go toward workforce housing.

The biggest difference is the amount of rent discount developers would offer in exchange for funding. Affordable housing typically is considered as units set aside for households that make 80% area median income or less. Workforce housing is set aside for those who make up to 120% AMI, which includes teachers, police and firefighters.

The projects approved Jan. 12 were from what staff described was the “big players” in affordable housing in Pinellas. Staff also pointed out that it was important the developers receive assistance so their projects could be profitable and they have an incentive to do the projects.

Commissioners remained firm on a preference for mixed use projects, rather than ones that include only affordable units.

Staff recommended $700,000 and closing costs for land acquisition by HFA be awarded to Skyway Lofts by Blue Sky Communities. The 65-unit multi-family affordable housing apartment building is already under construction. It includes 10 units restricted to households between 0-30% AMI, 42 units restricted to households between 31-60% AMI and 13 units restricted to households between 61-80% AMI. The remainder of the units would be rented out at market rate.

Commissioners approved staff’s recommendation for $750,000 and closing costs for land acquisition for The Shores by Richman Group. The project includes 51 multi-family units restricted to households between 0-60% AMI.

Also approved was a recommendation for $4 million for capital improvement construction costs for New Northeast by Stock Development. The project is a 415 unit mixed-income apartment community that includes 59 units restricted to household between 0-80% AMI and 66 units restricted to households between 81-120% AMI. The affordability period would be 30 years from the date the project is completed.

The fourth project approved was for $3.4 million and closing costs toward a 171 unit mixed-income apartment community that would include 18 units restricted to household between 0-80% AMI and 114 units restricted to households between 101-120% AMI. The affordability period would continue into perpetuity.

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