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Pasco low-income senior housing moves ahead despite economy

PORT RICHEY — Construction will start soon on a 96-unit apartment complex for lower-income seniors, a population in need of housing across the county.

Banyan Senior Apartments will be located on 8 acres on the east side of U.S. 19, on a mostly wooded property less than a mile south of State Road 52. The project includes one three-story building with a swimming pool and a neighborhood park.

The developer is Banyan Senior Limited Partnership, which operates under the umbrella of Beneficial Communities, a Sarasota-based company that has built similar projects in Titusville and Pensacola.

Project manager Dusan Peric said his company is known for its attention to design and to amenities, which include a movie room with a full-size projector, a hair salon and a small library and computer room.

"It'll look like a very high-end product," Peric said.

Prospective tenants must be at least 55 years old and meet certain income requirements.

To live in most of the units, that means making less than 60 percent of the area median income. For a two-person household, that translates into roughly $27,120 a year, according to state figures. A smaller number of units are reserved for people making 33 percent of the median income.

Rents for a one-bedroom at Banyan will range from $349 to $636 and for two-bedrooms from $419 to $763, according to the Florida Housing Finance Corp.

The project should be open by February 2010.

Banyan has received $1.44-million in federal tax credits, which are awarded by the state in a competitive scoring process to help fund the project. Peric said Banyan's market made it a winning candidate.

"Pasco was one of the major counties that needs affordable housing for seniors," he said.

Project financing also includes a $505,000 loan from Pasco County, which is repayable over four years, said community development director George Romagnoli. He called the shortage of rental units for low-income seniors "significant."

Bucking trend

Banyan Senior Apartments gets under way at a time when many affordable housing projects nationwide are in jeopardy because of the credit crunch.

That's because investors — two of the best known were Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — have scaled back their participation in the federal tax credit program that had boosted construction of below-market rent apartments.

Investors buy those credits to reduce their tax liability dollar for dollar, and the developers put that money toward construction costs. In exchange for the credits, developers must agree to set aside a certain number of units for households earning a certain income.

But investors still willing to buy credits are less willing to pay as much as they once did.

Five years ago, investors might pay close to $1 for each $1 of credit, Romagnoli said. Now the market rate is closer to 80 cents.

That financing gap leaves many developers struggling to find extra money to get the projects off the ground.

Another proposed senior housing project in Pasco County, a 173-unit complex called Evergreen near Fivay Road in Hudson, is on hold until developer Gatehouse Group LLC finds additional financing.

Evergreen is feeling the same pinch as many projects around the country, said Mark Plonskier, president of Gatehouse. "A lot of deals have just stalled pending a solution," he said.

Banyan managed to line up investors before the credit market really started to tighten. Karen Weeks, director of asset management for Banyan, said it helped that the company had worked with many of those same investors on other projects.

"It's difficult but we've been very lucky to have a relationship with the investors," she said.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Pasco low-income senior housing moves ahead despite economy 11/24/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 26, 2008 12:32pm]

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