SUN CITY CENTER — Sun City Center holds a reputation as an affluent retirement town but with many residents living longer, it's growing more difficult for more retirees to make ends meet.
Maintaining financial stability can be a challenge for those who have lost a spouse and suddenly have their monthly income cut in half.
Other potential problems exist. Pensions can run out. Skyrocketing medical bills or prescription costs can cripple twilight-year finances.
When one or a combination of the scenarios hit seniors, they find themselves in difficult financial straits and many are forced to leave their retirement dream homes in search of more affordable housing.
Unfortunately, if they wish to remain in Sun City Center or Kings Point where they have developed relationships and participated in activities, finding more affordable condos, houses, or rental properties proves difficult.
According to a recent study commissioned by the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay's SouthShore Council, the longevity of the Sun City Center population and being able to afford to stay at home is a growing concern. When faced with the realization that staying at home is not an option, where can residents go?
"We need some affordable housing in this community that we just don't have," said Dana Dittmar, CEO of the Sun City Center Chamber of Commerce. "We need more efficiency apartments that independent seniors can afford and still enjoy living in this community that has become their home.
"There is a little string of apartments on Augusta and on North Pebble Beach and that's it."
The problem with building new affordable housing in Sun City Center is that there is no land left to build on.
"There's one plot of land in Kings Point and probably some land where the old golf courses used to be where they could build some lower income apartments," Dittmar said, "but the neighborhoods don't want to see this happen."
Kings Point offers more low-cost housing in the northern-most sections just inside its entrance. These small condos, commonly referred to as the "flat-tops" because of their distinctive flat rooftops, rent for less than $1000 a month.
"The average rental of one of the smaller condos in the front of Kings Point is $850 to $900," said Flo Vachon, a Keller Williams Realtor. "This is for a one bedroom, one bath condo with about 800 square feet of living space. On the other side (in Sun City Center), a one bedroom, one bath, 900 square foot condo is $945 a month."
It appears that renting is a much better option in Kings Point because of the number of items included in the rental fee. A tenant does not have to pay the association fee, receives basic cable and water, gets landscaping and lawn maintenance, pest control, and doesn't pay the property tax.
In Sun City Center, however, rent agreements only include trash pick-up, water and sewer. Sometimes the landlord will pick up the tab for the association fee, but not always.
But evidently, there aren't enough "flat-tops" to go around.
Of course, there are other rental properties available in both Kings Point and Sun City Center, but as the house or condo gets bigger, so does the rent. Brenda White, owner of Sun City Living Realty, manages a lot of rental property.
"Some of the larger, unfurnished places in Sun City are single family homes so they are priced higher than the condos in Kings Point," White said. "There are a lot of single ladies out there who can't afford those higher prices.
"If I had 10 one-bedroom condos right now, I could rent them easily. Anything under $1000 rents just like that. But they're just not out there."
And what about purchasing a home rather than renting?
"There are condos available for as low a $40,000 for a one bedroom," Vachon said. "If you want a two bedroom, those get up into the $60,000s. Then you throw in the condo fees which average between $400 and $500 a month on top of the property tax and the homeowners insurance, and you've suddenly gotten out of the affordable category."
The boom of new housing developments springing up around the periphery of Sun City Center still doesn't seem to offer a solution to the problem.
The most affordable area being developed is one currently under construction on U.S. 301 just south of the WaWa in Wimauma. The Vista Palms subdivision by Lennar is offering homes for as low as $170,000 up to $245,000. But this seems to be the exception rather than the rule.
The expansion of Valencia Lakes on the other side of State Road 674 on U.S. 301 includes houses that start at $250,000.
Rick Rios, chairman of the SouthShore Council that was instrumental in the study, suggested financial literacy may be a key to helping seniors.
"We want to help educate our residents with financial options before they have nowhere else to go," Rios said. "People don't seek out advice, information or education until they need it and by then, it's too late.
"Offering education classes or informational meetings or referrals to independent third party sources about things like reverse mortgages are happening a lot more, trying to access the equity in their homes so they will be able to stay in it. We need to offer our seniors a class called 'The Right Moves Late in the Game.'
"It's just an unfortunate situation."
Times correspondent Kathy Straub can be reached at [email protected]