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St. Pete eyes dilapidated homes, vacant lots for affordable housing

Run-down homes get fresh start in St. Pete
Condemned home, St. Petersburg Florida.
Posted at 10:37 AM, May 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-17 18:12:20-04

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — If you live in a neighborhood with even one home on the block crumbling to the ground with the windows boarded up and sitting vacant for years; you know what it is like to want something to be done to fix it up or raze it.

St. Petersburg is one of the few cities with a unique program to get rid of the eyesores and turn vacant lots and condemned homes into single-family units for families that need them.

Since 2014, the Affordable Housing Lot Disposition Program, has helped St. Pete foreclose on properties, demolition abandoned homes, and get developers to build something new from the ground up. The only catch, the developer has to build affordable housing.

"And that's something that the city needs, as many homes as we can get," James Corbett said.

Corbett is the Neighborhood Affairs Administrator for the City of St. Pete. He explained how the program started.

"Back in 2014, we noticed several properties bogged down by liens and special assessments where the city had maintained the property for several years, through mowing the grass, boarding-up vacant properties, and sometimes even demolishing condemned properties," Corbett said. "So we established a program where we would foreclose on those outstanding liens, and if the city was able to acquire the property, we would give it to a developer who would sell it to an affordable buyer. So, a new single-family home sold to an affordable buyer. And we thought it was a creative way to turn these dilapidated properties into affordable housing."

If the home goes through the foreclosure process and the city can buy the property; the developer will get the house for a small fee. Sometimes, the owner makes good on the liens or repairs the home, and it is never foreclosed.

"Which is also a benefit because those are taxpayer dollars that have been spent and were able to recoup that money," Corbett said.

Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties are currently building their eleventh home through the program.

"It's becoming harder and harder for an organization like us to find an affordable property to build on," Mike Sutton, CEO and President of Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties, said. "And, so when the city rolled this, this program out a number of years ago, what was exciting for us was number one, it gave us the opportunity to partner with the city, and to potentially get properties that we normally wouldn't have been able to get."

Sutton said competing with investors buying property is one of their main challenges. And prices for vacant lots, even in lower-income areas of St. Pete, have skyrocketed.

"These same lots, we probably would have purchased a number of years ago for $3,000 to $5,000," Sutton said. "And, now you know, we're bidding with for-profit developers for properties and investors, and so, you know, this thing would probably sell between $80,000 and $90,000 now."

But, through it all, Sutton said their donors continue to support their mission. A single mom with three kids will move into the home under construction in Childs Park in a few months.

"There is nothing like the day that a family receives the keys to their new home. I always like to say it is symbolic of breaking the cycle of poverty," Sutton said.

Over the past eight years, the city has acquired and awarded 50 lots. On May 23, an additional 10 lots will be given to developers for affordable housing. Corbett said there are more than a hundred similar properties that the city could target for the program. He added it can take time and legal work to foreclose on a home. But, one house can make a difference for a family in need.

"I believe it's more than worth it," Corbett said. "We are one of the few cities who have a program like this," Corbett said. "I've been to a few dedications where I've been able to see a property owner, you know, get the keys to their home for the first time. And that makes it all worth it."

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