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Seminole Heights nonprofit helps vulnerable populations with affordable housing

Seniors, those with disabilities are getting priced out of Tampa Bay
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Posted at 5:02 AM, Nov 16, 2021

SEMINOLE HEIGHTS, Fla. — In Seminole Heights, a nonprofit is providing affordable housing for seniors and those living with little to no income, at a time when the rental market in Tampa Bay has no place for them.

I love it here, I feel very safe and that’s the most important thing for me,” said Sonia Saltares a resident at The Heights. “I’m a widow, I’m an only income, so I have to make sure that I moved into a place where I’m not only able to afford currently, but in the future.”

Saltares, like many other seniors and people with disabilities, is living on a fixed income.

“If someone is living on Social Security or social security disability, the odds of finding something that is decent to live is... near to none,” said Susan Morgan, the special projects coordinator at Gracepoint, and the heart behind The Heights development.

“I had a sister with disabilities so it definitely came close to home… so we just believe everybody deserves a right to affordability,” she explained.

The Heights opened its doors in 2020 with 64 units for seniors 55 and up who make 60% below the area median income.

Across the street is The Graham, with 90 affordable units for seniors as well as those who are at-risk of homelessness.

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Both are part of the Gracepoint campus, a nonprofit with physical and mental health services for adults and children, as well as a pharmacy.

The people that take care of this are wonderful and they’re always available. I never have to worry if I get sick, if I’m going to be alone, because they check on you,” said Patricia Yannacone, who moved into The Heights after battling cancer, needing a kidney and bladder transplant in the last year.

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In total, that’s more than 150 units for vulnerable populations who need affordable housing, but it’s still not enough.

“We’re at 100%. I mean, we have a waiting list,” Morgan said. “We are in discussions that we need to develop more.”

According to Hillsborough County Affordable Housing Services, 40% of families in the county are spending more than 30% of their income on housing.

Now, here's the more alarming number is that 20% of our families, one out of five of our families are paying greater than 50% of their household income on housing costs,” said Cheryl Howell, the Director of Affordable Housing Services with the county.

On top of that, about 19,000 people are currently on Tampa Housing Authority’s waitlists, according to Howell.

“We just have to aggressively continue to work at creating affordable housing units,” she added.

One way is through incentive programs, that’s how DDA Development built The Heights with Gracepoint.

“We applied for financing from the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, we got tax credits, we syndicated them to syndicator and raise the money to build a project,” said Bowen Arnold, Manager for DDA. “It's the most successful housing program, I think, in probably American history.”

But the state tax credit is extremely hard to get.

“It's a very oversubscribed program, very competitive,” Arnold explained. “So lots of applications submitted and very few funded right now. Only one deal gets funded in Hillsborough a year and one in Pinellas. “

Counties are also trying to add more incentives themselves.

Hillsborough County offers a 4% tax credit program for developers, density bonuses and an accelerated review process.

“We need more developers. We need people to understand that affordable housing development is economic development,” Howell said.

Morgan is hoping more developers can work with nonprofits to help create more affordable communities, and keep them affordable for good.

“We would love to see this duplicated not just across the Tampa Bay area, but across the entire country,” Morgan said.

Both Saltares and Yannacone said they hope they never have to leave.

I wouldn’t move for anything, and I don’t know a single person that lives here that doesn’t like it. Everyone loves it,” Yannacone said.

If you’re interested in partnering with the county or city to develop affordable housing: