A senior housing complex rising at the corner of Eighth Street and Third Avenue N will take applications this month for apartments that open in August.
The four-story City Place Senior Residences is one of the last affordable housing projects in the city from a funding pipeline that's all but dry.
Bare walls will take on shades of moss, terra-cotta and cream, and wrap covered parking, a rooftop terrace, a shuffleboard court, exercise and community areas and a play spot for visiting grandkids. Rent for the poorest residents in one-bedroom units will start at $276 a month.
The $15.5 million project was developed by Southport Financial Services with help from the Florida Housing Finance Corp., the agency that administers the low-income housing tax credit program. The agency encourages affordable multifamily housing by offering federal tax credits that developers can sell to businesses, such as banks, that want to reduce their tax liability.
The City Place development won $15 million in tax credits in 2009 that generated $12 million for the project, said Scott Seckinger, vice president of development at Southport.
For 2010, the Florida Housing Finance Corp. won't even offer an application process for the credits.
Even if it did offer the credits, developers would struggle to win them for local projects — a city loan program that meets a local match requirement is low on funding, according to Stephanie Lampe, senior housing development coordinator for St. Petersburg.
The economy hit from all sides. City loans at 0 or 1 percent interest were funded by three sources that all suffered. One was based on state fees from property sales. Another was the county. A federal source has dropped to $1.3 million that's split with a single-family program.
Southport's $500,000 city loan, at 1 percent interest, was critical to its application for tax credits, Seckinger said. His company, which is based in Tacoma, Wash., but operates its developments east of Chicago from a Clearwater office, specializes in development that takes advantage of the federal credits. A perfect score is key to win in a competitive process that ultimately puts the strongest applicants in a lottery, he says.
The economy offered another twist: The City Place development was one of the few projects that managed to sell its credits, to Regions Bank. The bank will get $1.5 million in tax credits a year for 10 years in exchange for pumping $12 million into the project. But economy-wide, the market for credits dissolved just like other forms of financing.
Still, projects moved forward.
"Anytime you drive by and see something being built, it's probably affordable housing these days," Seckinger said.
It's important not for merely low-income residents — who have wider choices now, anyway, for low-rent housing precisely because of the housing crash — but for groups that need extra care, such as the elderly, disabled, or youth just out of foster care, said Cecka Green, communications director for Florida Housing Finance Corp.
"There is always a need for decent, safe and affordable elder housing, particularly in Florida," she said.
The city's using some of its $9.4 million Neighborhood Stabilization Fund grant to renovate foreclosed buildings into special housing, such as to provide a no-interest loan to Boley Centers to buy and rehab the former Fountain View Apartments at 425 and 430 13th Ave. S. Some of the last tax credit projects funded similar work, such as an 188-unit high-rise now called Viridian at 518 Third Ave. S. It had an open house in March to show off $6 million in renovations, still in progress.
But there's unlikely to be money anytime soon for new construction.
Joshua Johnson, director of the city's housing and community development department, says local funding might return with the housing market, perhaps in the next two years.
Lampe pipes in: "That would be our hope."
Becky Bowers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8859. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/bbowerstimes.