ST PETERSBURG, Fla. — With rent growth in Tampa Bay twice the rate of the national average, it’s no secret, affordable housing is very hard to come by. In St. Petersburg, the city council recently approved its first two development projects with the new Penny for Pinellas Affordable Housing Program.
“In St. Pete, we're seeing rents are going up and as an apartment owner, that's great, but with the affordability, a lot of people are getting pushed out. And that's part of why we're doing two deals there.” said Bowen Arnold, manager for DDA Development, who just secured one of the two projects.
DDA is ranked the 9th largest commercial real estate developer in Tampa Bay and Arnold said, “Affordable is probably 20% of our focus these days.”
The penny sales tax is countywide, divided between the county and its 24 cities based on population.
“It's typically used for infrastructure projects, maybe you could think of recreation center or a fire station, however, can now also be used for land acquisition for affordable workforce housing,” Robert Gerdes, the Neighborhood Affairs Administrator for the city of St. Petersburg.
The penny sales tax isn’t new in Pinellas County. It’s been widely approved by voters every decade since the 1990's. However, in its fourth round, both the county and City of St. Petersburg vowed to tackle affordable housing.
“That is a penny sales tax where the Board of County Commissioners set aside approximately $80 million over the next 10 years to leverage new affordable housing projects,” said Carol Stricklin, Director for Pinellas County Housing and Community Development Department.
With an additional $15 million allocated from St. Pete, that’s at least $95 million from the Penny for Pinellas fund straight into affordable housing.
The first of the two St. Petersburg projects is Blue 64th LLC’s ‘Bear Creek Commons.’ They are receiving nearly $2 million dollars to build 85 units for seniors who make less than 60% of the area median income, also referred to as AMI. They also applied for tax breaks through the state.
DDA will receive $5 million to build ‘Sixty90 on Central’ with 204 units:
- 42 for households below 80% AMI
- 142 units at 81 to 120% AMI
- 20 at market rate
“That's likely to be people workforce, teachers, firefighters, people who work for local government,” Arnold explained.
According to the city, the median income for Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tampa is $63,900.
For a two-person household:
- 60% AMI would be about $35,000 a year
- 80% AMI would be about $47,000 a year
- 120% AMI would be about $71,000 a year
Community advocates with Faith and Action for Strength Together or FAST, pushed to get this program, and say the funds need to go to developments with more lower-income units.
“Imagine if people up to 125% of average median income are hurting, imagine the people earning under 80% how much they’re hurting. I talk to people working 3 jobs who still can’t afford their rent,” explained FAST advocate Pat Fling.
City council members echoed these same concers referencing the specific income level goals they set for the penny program over a 10 year span:
- At least half of the units need to be at or below 60% AMI
- 1/3 at or below 80% AMI
- 90% need to be at or below 120% AMI
Gerdes confirmed with ABC Action News that going forward, penny projects will focus on lower-income as they work with developers for workforce housing with other funding streams.
“Most of the taxpayer developers are submitting 10 or 20 applications a year all over the state,” Bowen explained, “We’re a bit of a hybrid… but I think there are a lot of good people out there doing this.”
Pinellas county has committed $23.4 million of their Penny for Pinellas funds to 884 affordable units so far.
The city and county are both accepting applications for these funds.
Click here for the county application.
Click here for the city application.