St. Petersburg's City Place surprised by early interest in affordable senior housing

ST. PETERSBURG — News of a new senior housing complex near downtown with low rent, granite countertops and a rooftop terrace prompted hundreds of phone calls — and frustration.

A message promised calls would be returned promptly, and that an on-site leasing office would start taking applications May 1.

But the mailbox, made available April 19, was frequently full. Some seniors who did leave messages said they didn't hear back, even weeks later. And a small knot of callers determined to learn more showed up May 1, a Saturday, to find little but a construction site.

Now the developer says he never expected such early demand, and that the May 1 date was a "horrible mistake" in the phone message. Instead of a trailer at the site as once planned, an office will open nearby. Peter Leach, senior vice president at Southport Financial Services in Clearwater, says a leasing office will open May 17 at 244 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N.

"Our system has gotten completely overwhelmed," Leach said. "We never, ever in a million years expected this kind of response."

The Tacoma, Wash., company has about 11,000 units from Honolulu to New York, most of it affordable tax credit property, he said. Leach covers the region east of Chicago.

"In the ordinary course of leasing, this is maybe a month earlier than I'd normally start qualifying people officially," he said.

He said he didn't know the phone message said May 1 until a reporter told him last week.

"We'll take care of that right now," he said.

Leach said the phone number's voice mail box could store 20 messages at a time, and the property management company planned to check it once a day for prospective applicants. They expected a trickle of calls.

It's now checked every two hours, he said. Nearly 300 names will go in a spreadsheet, and callers were to start hearing back this week, he said.

Wanda Sanchez, who works for property manager Cambridge Management in Tampa, will work full time at the leasing office. She has been checking the voice mail in addition to other duties.

"Sometimes it's really hard. I'm the only one who's receiving any calls here," she said.

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. A $500,000 loan from the city at 1 percent interest aided its tax credit application.

Harold "Hal" Gens, 76, says he called the City Place number for weeks, never hearing back. At 7:30 a.m. May 1, he went with his wife, Shirley, 66, to the complex, looking forward to chatting with leasing agents. The construction site had a workers' trailer and a security guard. But no leasing office.

He was joined by about 10 others, like him looking for the office promised in the phone message. One woman was on oxygen. They stayed several hours, leaving when it was clear no help would arrive.

Still, he was happy to at last get a call back last week. The nice lady said she would send him an information packet.

Becky Bowers can be reached at bbowers@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8859. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/bbowerstimes.

Fast facts

City Place Senior Residences

298 Eighth St. N, St. Petersburg

Leasing office: Opens May 17 at 244 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N.

For more information: Ask for a packet and leave contact information at (727) 823-0307.

What's available: 58 one-bedroom apartments and 24 two-bedroom apartments from 500 to 850 square feet, with amenities including covered parking, a rooftop terrace, a shuffleboard court, exercise and community areas, and a play spot for visiting children.

When: Units should be ready by late August. Residents won't be chosen for at least a month. Those who have left messages should start to hear back .

To qualify: To be considered, you must be over 55 and meet income requirements. To qualify for most units, residents must make $24,840 or less for one person or $28,440 for two people, which is 60 percent of the area's median income. (The federal government releases an annual update soon, so those numbers may shift by the time applications are available.) Rent for that group would be $576 to $687 a month. Spots are unlikely to still be available for the 10 percent of units rented at an even lower rate.

To find other affordable housing: Visit FloridaHousingSearch.org or call toll-free at 1-877-428-8844.

St. Petersburg's City Place surprised by early interest in affordable senior housing 05/11/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 11, 2010 12:43pm]

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