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Habitat's vision expands

The Clearwater Housing Authority wanted to get rid of an old public housing complex that did not support itself financially.

Coincidentally, Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County is starting to develop not just single homes, but whole communities.

The result?

The housing authority recently sold its old 61-unit Homer Villas on N Betty Lane to Habitat for $1.2-million.

"We saw this as an opportunity," said Jacqueline Rivera, the housing authority's chief executive officer. "With … home ownership that is affordable, the community is going to progress even further."

Over the next five years, Habitat hopes to create a subdivision called Stevens Creek on the 9 acres. The new community would have 50 houses sold to people who make between 30 and 80 percent of the area's median income.

Habitat also hopes to build 10 homes for sale to anyone regardless of income.

"There is a significant need for affordable housing in Pinellas County," said Ron Spoor, Habitat's land development manager. "By concentrating on both (individual homes) and subdivisions we have a greater opportunity to meet the need."

• • •

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has encouraged local housing officials in recent years to dismantle obsolete public housing. Most notably, high-rise projects in cities such as Chicago and New York have been replaced by newer forms of public housing.

Following the trend, six years ago the Clearwater Housing Authority sold the dilapidated Chesapeake Village on Drew Street near McMullen Booth Road to a neighboring church and put the money into other forms of public housing.

The housing authority is also redeveloping a third property. Jasmine Courts — also near Drew Street and McMullen Booth Road — one day will be a community of renters and home­owners. The neighborhood will be renamed Parkview Village and have a small boutique.

"We are trying to create a community that people can be proud to live in and have some dignity," Rivera said. And, Rivera said, "we are attempting to do this without any federal subsidies."

Work could start as soon as next year.

• • •

Retrofitting the Homer Villas complex was not financially feasible, Rivera said. Not all of the units were occupied. The 48 families who moved out by February 2007 got vouchers to get government-subsidized housing from private landlords.

To purchase Homer Villas, Habitat took out a bank loan, officials said. The agency hopes to obtain funding from the city of Clearwater and Pinellas County to pay off the loan.

So far, Habitat has developed one other similar large-scale project in the county: Midtown Green, which has 30 homes in St. Petersburg.

It also is developing 19 townhomes called Shady Grove on Howell Street near Martin Luther King Avenue in Dunedin. The 3 acres were owned by the Dunedin Housing Authority.

Habitat officials are taking applications for both the Dunedin and Clearwater projects, Spoor said. He said the tenants who left Homer Villas will be given preference if they apply to buy one of the new homes.

Besides the financial requirements to get a no-interest mortgage from Habitat, people must put in "sweat equity," by helping to build their homes.

Habitat officials say they plan to do more large-scale projects.

In "doing subdivisions there is a greater ability for efficiencies in construction," Spoor said, "and a greater ability from the ground up to develop an attractive neighborhood."

Jose Cardenas can be reached at jcardenas@sptimes.com or (727) 442-4224.

>>fast facts

How to apply

Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County is looking for applicants for new homes in Clearwater and Dunedin. To learn more, call (727) 536-4755 or visit www.phfh.org.

Habitat's vision expands 04/09/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 10, 2008 5:12pm]
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