ST. PETERSBURG — A new 12-story building downtown is nothing to scoff at. But the $17 million Portland apartments, going up across the street from the City Place senior apartment complex, represent more than a new addition to the city's skyline.
For developer Alex English, it's the realization of his company's first high-rise project. For city housing director Joshua Johnson, it's another success in the city's effort to offer affordable housing options. For some residents in City Place, it's a chance to leave a building plagued by controversy since it opened for a new home across the street.
English, a Houston native, is a former football player, a wide receiver who once suited up for the University of Wyoming and, more recently, founded 908 Development Group in Tampa in 2005. The 68-unit Portland, at 300 Eighth St. N, is the first high-rise they have supervised from the ground up.
He says he wants to offer affordable housing that "looks and feels like market-rate housing," with amenities usually reserved for higher-end buildings: a gym, a putting green and programs for residents.
English is not alone. Johnson says the Portland, which opens in October, is the latest in a trend of apartments that cater to lower-income residents but look and feel like luxury buildings. His department helped secure more than $1 million in funding for the Portland and has contributed funds ranging from $500,000 to $3 million to similar projects over the past five years.
Most of the Portland's construction costs — $14.1 million, to be exact — are funded through affordable housing tax credits from the state. In exchange, English and his company had to secure significant city support before construction.
Apartments range from a 543-square-foot one-bedroom unit to a 904-square-foot unit with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. To qualify for an apartment, a four-person household, for example, would have to report an annual income under $33,900 in 2011. The complex will also set aside at least 10 percent of its units for families who make just 35 percent of the area's median income. In those cases, a family of four would have to make less than $19,775 per year.
Rents are limited as well, ranging from $371 a month for a one-bedroom apartment to $882 a month for a three-bedroom apartment.
English said he received 20 applications within the first week his leasing office was open for business and expects to have all 68 units filled by October.
"We're aiming to enhance the quality of the lives of our tenants through the building and its living spaces," English said. "The level of interest and response we've gotten so far has been incredible."
That was the vision behind City Place, an affordable housing complex across the street geared toward residents 55 and older. But increasingly, some City Place tenants are considering moving to the Portland.
"There's a lot of people that are seriously considering making the move from here to there," said Diane Stewart, who moved into City Place in December. She's worried those people don't realize the Portland will be full of families.
City Place opened in September to much fanfare, but managers began fielding concerns when the complex allowed families to move in alongside seniors. Residents complained that children were running up and down hallways and using computers in the community room and that a "criminal element" was present in the building. Police made two drug arrests there in the spring.
Stewart, 65, says she knows a number of residents who are looking into moving into the Portland. That's not for her, though.
"For me it's a noise factor. It's not like I dislike kids — I had a bunch of them. But the point is, I had a bunch of them," she said, laughing. "As much as I love them, I don't want them invading my space."
Stewart says she has mixed feelings about the Portland.
"I think it'll help because we'll have more residential buildings in the neighborhood," she said. "Do I like to see a bunch of kids? Not really. They don't have any place to go, and that bothers me."