Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Audit flags St. Petersburg nonprofit as key recipient of county loan breaks

Pinellas County encourages nonprofit agencies to build affordable housing for residents by offering incentives — forgiving loans they get through the county to build an apartment complex, for example.

But a new internal audit shows that the vast majority of concessions for rental housing have gone to just one agency — one with close ties to county government.

Contemporary Housing Alternatives of Florida, which has built 500 affordable apartment units for the county, received "abnormal" and "excessive" breaks and possible "preferential treatment," according to the audit by the Inspector General Division, an arm of the Clerk of Courts Office.

The St. Petersburg-based nonprofit received 87 percent of the county's concessions, which include debt forgiveness, lower interest rates, increasing loan amounts and deferred payback dates.

That amounts to at least $4.7 million in loan forgiveness since 1994.

"The effect of granting significant financial concessions to CHAF is the county has fewer resources available to develop affordable housing for its citizens," the audit says.

Without naming names, the audit mentioned one other fact. For most of the past decade, Contemporary Housing Alternatives of Florida has carried board members with ties to county government.

Former County Administrator Fred Marquis joined in 2001 after retiring. Jake Stowers, now a consultant, came on as chairman by 2008 after he retired as an assistant county administrator in 2006.

Stowers joined as Marquis returned to be interim county administrator after the 2007 Jim Smith land purchase scandal.

Marquis and Stowers denied pushing county officials for favors, as did John Carr, the president of Contemporary Housing Alternatives.

At least three county commissioners — Nancy Bostock, Neil Brickfield and Calvin Harris — are now seeking a deeper accounting of how the county's housing programs run.

"In this instance, affordable housing has been such an important part of our program of work, we just have to take it seriously," Harris said.

On Thursday, County Administrator Bob LaSala promised the commission a public explanation of the actions of the county's two housing groups, the Community Development Department and the Housing Finance Authority.

"I think this is significant enough consequence and scope that I should do it at that venue," said LaSala, who was still digesting the audit's findings.

The two county housing agencies share a staff and a director, Anthony Jones.

Marquis and Stowers both had oversight of Community Development in the 1990s.

"I don't think the fact I used to work for the county is providing some benefit or Mr. Marquis is providing some benefit. … I have never gone out and said, 'Gee whiz Anthony, you ought to do this or you ought to do that, ' " Stowers said.

Jones and Carr both defended the nonprofit.

The 17-employee operation helps get people into homes in a county where housing costs are high, they said. The nonprofit focuses on multi-family housing, such as the 55-unit Ashley Place near 46th Avenue N and Park Street in St. Petersburg.

Carr said such concessions are necessary because the nature of affordable housing makes traditional private financing unworkable. The county requires that 20 percent of units be offered at low rents to qualify for funding help.

If anything, Carr and Jones said, the volume of loan forgiveness was because the county has designated the nonprofit as a preferred developer, essentially guaranteeing it a share of funding.

The nonprofit also went through significant private and public loan restructuring several years ago, generating more favorable terms as it fought the nation's financial crisis, Carr said.

"We didn't make any money off it," Carr said. "We just took on a hell of a lot more debt that we're struggling to pay back now."

The nonprofit's 2008 tax return shows it spent $3.4 million that year, almost $300,000 beyond its revenue. It paid management $270,000, and reported no one making more than $100,000.

Carr would not disclose his salary. Neither Marquis nor Stowers are paid by CHFA, according to the 2008 tax return.

Besides accusing auditors of a personal grudge, Jones said the audit was imperfect because some projects require no repayment, and forgiven debt can be a condition of a loan agreement and aren't concessions.

Questions over the nonprofit came in the same audit that revealed the two county housing agencies threw an $8,000 party in 2007 that was paid for by firms that do business with the groups. Raising the threat of "pay to play" politics, auditors accused managers of intentionally withholding records.

However, finance authority chairman Rodney Fischer criticized the Times for delivering a "cheap shot" in reporting the findings, though he said he hadn't read the entire 117-page audit because it would be a "waste of time."

"There's hundreds and hundreds of people that we have helped, and that's the story," he said.

David DeCamp can be reached at or (727) 893-8779.

Audit flags St. Petersburg nonprofit as key recipient of county loan breaks 08/12/10 [Last modified: Friday, August 13, 2010 8:13am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Video: Loggerhead sea turtle found in Islamorada resident's pool


    An adult female loggerhead sea turtle, discovered in an oceanside residential pool in Islamorada on Monday, has been rescued and released off the Florida Keys.

    An adult female loggerhead sea turtle, discovered in an oceanside residential pool in Islamorada on June 22, 2017, has been rescued and released off the Florida Keys. [Photo from video]

  2. What Wilson Ramos will mean to the Rays lineup, pitching

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Chris Archer was stumping for all-star votes for Corey Dickerson during a live interview Wednesday morning on the MLB Network when he lifted the right earpiece on his headset and said, "I hear a buffalo coming."

    Tampa Bay Rays catcher Wilson Ramos (40) waves to the crowd after being presented with the Silver Slugger Award before the start of the game between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, April 4, 2017.
  3. Deon Cain, Duke Dawson, Derrick Nnadi among SI's top 100 players


    Sports Illustrated's countdown of the top 100 players in college football continues with three more local players.

  4. She doesn't care if you accept her, as long as you respect her

    Human Interest

    Mary Jane Taylor finds strength walking quietly among the dead.

    Mary Jane Taylor,18, visits Oaklawn Cemetery in downtown Tampa when she is feeling low. "When I hit my low points in life I go the the graveyard," she says. "people are afraid of the graveyard. I love the graveyard." The transgender teen recently graduated from Jefferson High School. She is  enrolled in summer classes at Santa Fe College in Gainesville studying international business. She plans to transfer to the University of Florida, attend law school and become a civil rights lawyer. (JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |   Times)
  5. Few new details in state investigation of Tarpon Springs officer-involved shooting of Nick Provenza

    Public Safety

    TARPON SPRINGS — An investigative report, released this week by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, into the officer-involved shooting that killed 25-year-old Nick Provenza included largely the same narrative prosecutors released this month that ruled the shooting a "justifiable homicide."

    Stopping while riding by on his bike Michael Prater, 15, hangs his head after looking at the memorial at Safford and Tarpon avenues for Nick Provenza, a 25-year-old who was shot and killed there during a car show Saturday by a Tarpon Springs police officer. Investigators said Provenza pulled a knife on the cop who shot him. Friends find it hard to believe a man they described as a peaceful vegan and musician would be capable of such an act. Prater didn't know the victim but was at the car show.