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Options limited for many Mariners Pointe tenants

ST. PETERSBURG — Jayla Bonhomme, a night stocker at Walmart, says the paycheck she earns every two weeks doesn't stretch to cover utilities, child care and the $699 rent for her two-bedroom apartment in a troubled, rundown complex.

She has been forced to make her rent in partial payments, said Bonhomme, 32, who lives at Mariners Pointe, 1175 Pinellas Point Drive S, with her husband, Nelson Joseph, and three children, ages 14, 12 and 3.

"I pay how much I can," she said, adding that she once had two jobs, but when her hours were cut, she couldn't afford day care. Her husband stays home to take care of the 3-year-old, she said.

With March on the horizon and already owing part of February's rent, Bonhomme is in a financial hole. She likely falls into the category of renters at the recently sold apartment complex who will be asked to move when their lease is up.

This month, Mariners Pointe was bought by DWSS St. Pete LLC, which announced plans for a multimillion-dollar renovation and rebranding to attract a more affluent clientele. Current residents behind on their rent by more than 30 days are being asked to move by Friday or face eviction. Others with spotty payment histories will not have their leases renewed.

Bonhomme said she has not received any notification about her situation.

"It's kind of good to rebuild. Most of these apartments have mold and roaches," she said, noting that two of her children have asthma. "I'm happy to move."

But she doesn't know where she'll go when her lease expires in October.

Clifford Smith, the city's manager of veterans, social and homeless services, says he is working with the Going Home Project — Pinellas, an endeavor of the Homeless Leadership Board of Pinellas County, and Mariners Pointe's new management to help residents find homes.

"We're going to make ourselves available for anybody that needs help. I know that it's going to be on a bigger scale than we have ever done before," Smith said, recalling the November ceiling collapse at Lakewood Terrace apartments that displaced 15 families. He said assistance will include contacts for area housing authorities, the Department of Children and Families, affordable rentals, senior housing and agencies that help with rent, deposits, utilities and jobs.

Chris Koback, area manager for Weller Management, hired by Mariners Pointe's new owners to run the property, said the company has been handing out the information.

But the shortage of affordable housing will make it difficult to place everyone, Smith said. "Rentals are tight right now and there's a severe shortage of affordable housing."

Mariners Pointe had accepted Section 8 vouchers, a federal program that helps low-income families, the elderly and disabled rent safe housing in the private market. That changed in December, when the St. Petersburg Housing Authority stopped sending clients there because of the deteriorated conditions. The complex also has been notorious for crime, including several murders.

It's the reason Darlene Godfrey's daughter wants her to move. Godfrey, who works in sales, returned to Mariners Pointe, where she had lived previously, in July.

"I like the apartment. It's quiet now. A lot of the people are gone," she said Monday, returning to her apartment after walking her dog.

George Quay, Weller managing partner, said two letters have been sent to the residents, one about delinquent rent and payment options, and another, about nonrenewal of leases because of habitual late payments.

"The second letter was for those who owed in excess of one month," Quay said. "There were a handful who owed more than $4,000."

Koback said that when Weller Management took over the 368-unit complex on Feb. 13, "upwards of $78,000" was owed in back rent.

Some people have made payments since, but late payments incur penalties. "We don't accept the payment until payment is made in full," Quay said.

He said some residents have agreed to leave the complex — now a little over 50 percent occupied — by Friday and avoid the legal and financial troubles of eviction.

"The rest have said, 'I have no where to go. You're going to have to evict me,'" said Koback, sitting in the apartments' rental offices in a dated room with red and green plaid couches and a damaged ceiling.

Renovations to update the interior and exterior of the complex, which dates to 1972 and recently owned by Texas-based AHF-Bay Fund, are being finalized, Quay said.

Rents for one-bedroom units will run in the $700s, while two-bedroom apartments will cost in the $800s. Three-bedroom units, which include townhouses, will range from the mid $900s to the low $1,000s, Quay said.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283.

Options limited for many Mariners Pointe tenants 02/25/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 5:02pm]

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