Saturday, January 20, 2018
Business

With few signs of rebound, Midtown yet to surface from housing bust

ST. PETERSBURG — Barbara Thomas knew she wanted to move to Midtown. If it was anything like the other neighborhoods around here, she figured she'd find a recovering market: better homes, higher prices and less junk left over from the bust.

But as the Gibbs High School teacher toured this largely black, low-income district south of downtown, the homes she found were dirt cheap, boarded up or falling apart.

In June, she bought a newly remodeled home in Midtown's Highland Oaks, but not before visiting several flops that made her consider calling off the search.

"Some of the places I looked turned me off so bad," said Thomas, 60. "The houses were so run-down. There was no pride of ownership. I mentioned to my friend, I don't see myself paying for a house here."

The sales frenzies and wild price jumps of Tampa Bay's broader housing recovery are far from universal. In places like Midtown, the housing market has barely rebounded from the bust.

The historic heart of St. Petersburg's black community, this district of older homes between Fourth and 34th streets, downtown and Lake Maggiore has never boasted the home prices or demand of South Tampa or Snell Isle.

But the depths to which Midtown's housing market has fallen, and its slow sputtering while the rest of the market has climbed, could leave lasting damage.

Midtown homes this year have sold at the slowest pace in half a decade, a Tampa Bay Times analysis of listing data shows. And though median home prices have edged up to $33,000, they're still less than a third of their peak during the boom.

Barely anyone buys a Midtown home to live in anymore. Over the past five years, nearly nine in 10 home sales went to cash buyers like investors wanting to fix up and rent out Midtown's abandoned homes. It doesn't matter how rundown the home, as long as they can rent it out: Yard signs for one Tampa firm say "We Buy Crack Houses."

Agents say some of those investments have helped revamp Midtown's aging clapboard and concrete-block homes. But others worry that some investors are paying for only the scantest of fixes so they can quickly begin pocketing rent.

"I often see nothing but a little cleaning up, maybe some painting, and then they lease them in a heartbeat," said City Council Chairman Karl Nurse, who owns half a dozen Midtown homes. "If (some investors) have put even $5,000 into those houses, I've got four arms."

People have been renting in Midtown's widespread tenements for decades. The recently closed Sweetbay, a huge blow to the district's growth, was outlasted by a nearby squat apartment complex labeled Paradise.

But the gobbling up of old Midtown homes by buy-to-rent investors has opened the market to a new crop of "slumlords who are only putting lipstick on a pig," said Direct Express Realty broker Joe Cavaleri, who has rehabilitated 12 homes in Midtown's Melrose-Mercy neighborhood.

"Everything was empty, and nobody was fixing anything up," said Michael Gaines, 41, a city stormwater worker who recently left Midtown to buy a house near Gulfport.

Yet the deck is stacked against prospective home buyers who want to move here. Many homes were left empty during yearslong foreclosures and have had pipes, appliances and air-conditioning units ripped out. And agents say banks, already tightfisted with new mortgages, are especially skittish about handing out loans for such cheap homes.

"It takes not only the ability to purchase the home, but now you have to act to fix it up," said Jim Mayes, a HomeTrust Real Estate Group broker. "And you're not going to find conventional lenders who are going to give you a $25,000 mortgage. It's just not worth their time."

Midtown isn't the only minority district shifting away from homeownership. Just 43.9 percent of black Americans own a home, down from nearly 50 percent during the housing bubble, census data for 2012 show. Home­ownership by non-Hispanic whites stands at 73.5 percent, just 2.3 percentage points below its bubble-era peak.

For many, renting is not just a choice. During the housing boom, blacks were far more likely to be given risky subprime loans than whites with similar incomes, New York University research found. In the crisis that followed, almost 1 in 10 black borrowers lost their home to foreclosure, twice the rate for whites, a Center for Responsible Lending report shows.

Agents said the neighborhoods in Midtown will need real, long-term investments before its sluggish rebound speeds up. But even Midtown's newer homes and well-kept bungalows see their values dragged down when homes down the street are boarded up or left to rot.

Some condemned homes here have waited on city demolition lists for more than a year. And as long as those ignored homes are allowed to fester, agents said, Midtown has little chance of rebounding.

"For the community, we've got to find a way to get the worst houses torn down and in the next day" start over with something new, Nurse said. "We're never going to be able to build here otherwise."

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 893-8252 or [email protected]

Comments
Inspector General launches investigation into Tampa Bay’s local career centers

Inspector General launches investigation into Tampa Bay’s local career centers

The state has opened an investigation into CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay, days after the Tampa Bay Times asked about whether the two regional job centers were inflating the number of people they had helped get hired. The agencies, ...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Tech firm TranferWise moves to Ybor City, illustrating a new chapter in Tampa’s business history

Tech firm TranferWise moves to Ybor City, illustrating a new chapter in Tampa’s business history

TAMPA — You could sketch an economic history of the city of Tampa — and maybe get a glimpse of its future — just by looking at the old J. Seidenberg & Co./Havana-American Cigar Factory.It opened in 1894, making it Ybor City’s second-oldest brick ciga...
Published: 01/19/18

Want to buy into an exchanged-traded bitcoin fund? You might have a long wait

NEW YORK — It may be a while, if ever, before investors can buy an exchange-traded fund made up of bitcoin and other digital currencies. Federal regulators have a long list of questions they want answered before they’ll approve a digital currency fun...
Published: 01/19/18
Child psychologist weighs in on mom who charges 5-year-old ‘rent’

Child psychologist weighs in on mom who charges 5-year-old ‘rent’

A Georgia mother has gone viral for charging her 5-year-old "rent." Yup — the kid pays up for food, water, cable and electric, too.Essense Evans described in a Facebook post how she handles her daughter’s allowance. The post, written on Saturday, was...
Published: 01/19/18

Addicted to your smartphone? Now there’s an app for that

Did you text? Sorry, I can’t see messages right now. Arianna Huffington locked my phone.The media tycoon turned wellness entrepreneur wants to keep you out of your phone, too, with a new app called Thrive. Its goal is to make it cool for a generation...
Published: 01/19/18
Proposed monument near St. Pete pier would honor Tony Jannus history-making flight

Proposed monument near St. Pete pier would honor Tony Jannus history-making flight

ST. PETERSBURG — Tony Jannus’s history-making flight in an early seaplane — simultaneously as ungainly and graceful as a pelican on the wing — is what Mayor Rick Kriseman calls an "under-told and under-appreciated" story, but a team of local history ...
Published: 01/19/18
Learn how bus rapid transit (and rail) could work in Tampa Bay

Learn how bus rapid transit (and rail) could work in Tampa Bay

ST. PETERSBURG — The newest hope for transportation in the Tampa Bay area is a bus rapid transit system projected to cover the 41-miles separating St. Petersburg from Wesley Chapel and attract 4,500 new riders at a fraction of the cost of light rail....
Published: 01/19/18
Five things Tampa Bay needs to know about bus rapid transit

Five things Tampa Bay needs to know about bus rapid transit

ST. PETERSBURG — Transportation planners on Friday unveiled a new transit vision for Tampa Bay leaders on Friday morning: Bus rapid transit.Also known as BRT, it has arisen as the leading option in an ongoing study to find the best regional transit p...
Published: 01/19/18
Amazon boosts monthly Prime membership fees by 20 percent

Amazon boosts monthly Prime membership fees by 20 percent

NEW YORK — Amazon is raising the price of its Prime membership monthly plan by nearly 20 percent. The fee of $99 for an annual membership will not change, the company said Friday. The online retailer had added the monthly payment option about two yea...
Published: 01/19/18
Cuba’s tourism is booming despite Trump’s tougher policy

Cuba’s tourism is booming despite Trump’s tougher policy

HAVANA — On a sweltering early summer afternoon in Miami’s Little Havana, President Donald Trump told a cheering Cuban-American crowd that he was rolling back some of Barack Obama’s opening to Cuba in order to starve the island’s military-run economy...
Published: 01/19/18