One of our highest priorities in Pinellas County is assuring we have enough affordable housing. Supply doesn’t come close to meeting demand, and rising rents make it difficult for many of our residents to put a roof over their heads. This includes our elderly, our disabled veterans, and many citizens working in the service, retail and manufacturing sectors whose incomes don’t cover their basic expenses. Because this issue affects residents across the county, our response must involve close coordination with our municipal and non-government partners
Creating more affordable housing isn’t just an ethically necessary project – it supports our county’s strategic goals of Ensuring Public Health, Safety and Welfare and Fostering Continual Economic Growth and Vitality. We cannot ensure the welfare of our citizens if we aren’t addressing our housing crisis, and our economy will not grow to its full potential if our workers can’t afford to live within commuting distance.
So how do we do it? One of the most important ways the County creates affordable housing is by using a dedicated portion of Penny for Pinellas tax revenue to acquire land. The land is placed into a trust, where it remains in the ownership of the County or a local government, and it is leased to developers for construction of mixed-income or affordable housing apartment complexes. Recent successes include Garden Trail Apartments and Woodlawn Trail Apartments in Clearwater and the Palms of Pinellas Apartments in Largo. Our aim is to attract for-profit developers who’ll combine market rate rents with assisted rents so that poverty is not concentrated in any area.
New guidelines for Penny tax collections (Penny IV) over the next 10 years acknowledge the connection between economic development and workforce housing. The rules will permit limited funding for construction and preservation of affordable units in corridors we have identified for job growth.
This brings us to the Pinellas County Housing Finance Authority (HFA), whose role is to process the complex financing. The HFA is a special district created by the BCC in 1982. Its five-member board issues bonds to finance multi-family developments and mortgages for first-time home buyers in the county and provides funds for down payment assistance and closing cost help on second mortgages. You can learn more at www.PinellasHousing.com
Partnerships are everything, and I am particularly proud of our work with Habitat for Humanity. Habitat of Pinellas and West Pasco builds homes in working-class neighborhoods with help from the County, state, community volunteers, corporate donors and civic organizations. Habitat has built over 140 homes in Pinellas County over the past ten years, with a total investment exceeding $7.3 million.
I’ll be in attendance on Feb. 13 when Habitat dedicates its 600th safe and affordable home to a local, qualified family in the heart of Ridgecrest. I also want to note that families in receipt of these homes are required to put hundreds of hours of work alongside the Habitat volunteers and staff.
We have important partnerships in each community, too. In Clearwater, Bright Community Trust builds homes on available lots within communities (infill construction). In Lealman, Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay focuses on home rehabilitation. Tampa Bay Community Development Corp. has overseen the rehabilitation of homes that serve families with incomes under 80 percent of the area median income. With almost a million people in Florida’s most densely populated county, this is a huge team effort.
One last thing: Funding for affordable housing come from local, state and federal sources. State funding has been inconsistent because our legislature has used funds set aside for affordable housing for other purposes. Gov. Ron DeSantis has recommended that all funds set aside for the Sadowski housing trust fund go to affordable housing this year, and that’s a position I support.
As always, if you have questions or comments, you can reach me at (727) 464-3363 or firstname.lastname@example.org.