CLEARWATER — A new affordable housing project will be the most visible piece so far of the city's attempt to clean up its East Gateway District.
Country Club Townhomes, off Drew Street at 113 Betty Lane, will be a 31-unit project constructed largely with the help of federal affordable housing money.
Federal funding also will help subsidize the price new owners will pay for the townhomes. Units start at $142,000, but the city can cover up to $45,000 for some families.
Five of the 31 units have been built so far. Units range from 1,300 to just over 1,400 square feet and feature amenities like garages, granite countertops, vaulted bedroom ceilings and double-hung windows.
The funding structure of the project mandates that 16 of the units must be filled by people whose family income falls below 80 percent of the area median family income, while the other 15 cannot exceed 120 percent.
Clearwater began a cleanup of the East Gateway District about 10 years ago. Just down the street from the new project was an Economy Inn that served as a symbol of the area's blight. The inn was demolished last year.
In 2008, South Port Financial Services, with a $700,000 loan in federal money through the city, bought the property, previously part of a parking lot belonging to Verizon.
A townhome project that offered home ownership fit nicely with the city's plan for redevelopment of the district.
"The area has a very high percentage of rental — I think it's over 70 percent rental — so one of the things we wanted to do was encourage home ownership in the area," said Geri Campos Lopez, Clearwater's director of economic development and housing.
But after South Port and Clearwater teamed up, the project took a little longer than expected.
"When we started down that path, the housing market was still doing very well," Lopez said. "But once we got all of the deal structured, that's when the housing market went south and the project as envisioned really couldn't proceed."
Now, the first phase of the project is complete and the developer is hosting open houses. Three families are undergoing the qualification process, said Alex Jansen, co-founder of Jansen Coastal Properties Group, which is marketing the project.
As soon as the first three units sell, the developer will begin on the second phase of construction, said Frank Bowman, housing development manager in Pinellas County's Department of Community Development.
Rebecca Paone, a Realtor with Keller Williams Gulfside Realty who is hosting some of the open houses, said prospective buyers have hesitated, mostly because of the sticker price and the area. The open houses are being held each Sunday through Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Home ownership should play a key role in the area's redevelopment, Lopez said.
"People that actually own their homes and own their property, they're more emotionally attached to the property," she said, "so they take care of it."
Andy Thomason can be reached at (727) 445-4224 or firstname.lastname@example.org.