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Clearwater public housing site cleared for new uses

At a 40-acre site that used to be an old public housing project, Jacqueline Rivera and Robert Aude of the Clearwater Housing Authority plan the mixed-use, mixed-income Parkview Village.

JOSEPH GARNETT JR. | Times

At a 40-acre site that used to be an old public housing project, Jacqueline Rivera and Robert Aude of the Clearwater Housing Authority plan the mixed-use, mixed-income Parkview Village.

CLEARWATER — The sprawling 40 acres on Drew Street near McMullen-Booth Road sit empty at the moment.

In a few years, though, the former site of the Jasmine Courts public housing development will be transformed into a new community called Parkview Village.

The Clearwater Housing Authority hopes to see 300 or more owner-occupied homes, rentals and stores there.

The project will be the product of an evolving philosophy for the housing authority and will be an unusual project among Pinellas County's five housing agencies that provide housing for poor residents.

The philosophy reflects a national trend among housing authorities on two fronts.

First, Parkview Village will mix renters with homeowners and will include low-income and middle-class residents.

The goal is to rid public housing of the stigma associated with old developments — mostly in big cities — long-criticized for overcrowding, dilapidation and crime.

At Parkview Village, a home purchased by a low-income resident will be next to one bought by a middle-class owner. Unlike public-housing tenants, homeowners will pay property taxes.

Second, the project is expected to be a partnership with a private developer, Feltrim Developments of Davenport.

The housing authority and Feltrim plan to share in the expenses of building the community and possibly share profits and permanent management duties.

"This is the actual building of something that is socially responsible and doing a fiscally responsible master-plan community," said Jacqueline Rivera, chief executive officer of the Clearwater Housing Authority.

• • •

In recent years, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has reduced the subsidies it gives housing authorities per unit of housing.

At the same time, authorities have been asked to manage properties so they pay for their own upkeep, to tear down housing that can't be upgraded and to improve living conditions.

HUD is also in the middle of implementing an "asset management" style of accounting.

It involves deadlines by which authorities must operate the public-housing portion of their duties in the black.

The Clearwater authority is mostly known for its $9-million housing choice program, in which 1,100 families or individuals receive government vouchers to rent from private landlords.

Once, the agency also had five public-housing complexes. In those properties, public housing tenants' rent is 30 percent of their income.

Jasmine Courts was old and struggling financially. So the housing authority received permission from HUD in 2005 to raze its 284 units.

And Jasmine Courts isn't the only public housing complex that officials hope to reinvent as stable communities where residents own their homes.

The housing authority recently sold its 61-unit Homer Villas on N Betty Lane to the nonprofit group Habitat for Humanity. (Tenants at both developments got vouchers to rent from private landlords.)

The rent paid by Homer Villas tenants did not pay for its maintenance, Rivera said. The structures were too old to be retrofitted and crime was a problem.

Habitat plans to build 50 affordable homes at the former site of Homer Villas. They also will be sold rather than rented.

That makes Ralph Richards Towers on Prospect Avenue and Barbee Towers on Druid Road the authority's only public housing developments left. Rivera said the rents raised from the two buildings pay for their expenses.

As the authority transforms Jasmine Courts and Homer Villas into eventual private homes, it has added affordable housing units through four private business partnerships.

The four other properties the agency operates are "affordable, mixed-income" apartment-buildings which the agency runs like businesses.

The apartments have to be profitable because the authority bought them with funds from bonds sold to private investors.

The first property the agency purchased was the Hampton Apartments on McMullen-Booth near Ruth Eckerd Hall.

The complex was in bankruptcy in 1992 as a result of the national savings and loan crisis. The housing authority bought it for $10-million.

Since then, the authority has acquired three other similar complexes: Pineview on Greenlea Avenue, Sabal Walk on N Highland Avenue and Mainstreet on S Missouri Avenue.

Of the 711 units in all four complexes, 55 percent are rented at market value. The remainder are rented at reduced prices to low-income tenants.

In this model, the subsidies for the low-income tenants do not come from the federal government, Rivera said. They come from the profits of the market-value units.

"That's where the transition goes from public housing," Rivera said. "We have to be accountable for the money that folks have invested in us."

• • •

Parkview Village for the first time gives the housing authority a chance to use the business approach and mixed-use, mixed-income philosophies in one project built from scratch.

The development may end up with many more housing units than Jasmine Courts had.

"A major goal we have is increasing the number of affordable housing opportunities … within Clearwater," said Robert Aude, an architect and chairman of the housing authority. "We are real excited about the potential."

But because the project is in the preplanning stages, Rivera said, details are not completed.

It has not been determined, for example, how many homes would be sold versus how many rented, or how many at market value versus how many at reduced prices.

The housing authority probably would have nothing to do with homes sold at market value, but its role among low-income people might be helping them obtain affordable mortgages.

Parkview Village will be unique among Pinellas County's five housing authorities, said Darrell Irions, chief executive officer of the St. Petersburg, Pinellas County and Dunedin housing authorities.

"It's something most agencies are trying to do," said Irions. "It's just that in Pinellas County there's not a whole lot of land."

The county housing authority is exploring doing a similar project on 8 acres it owns on Ulmerton Road in Largo, where the agency has its headquarters.

"We'll look to do something on a smaller scale," Irions said. "That's definitely in our plans, to do mixed-use, mixed-income."

Jose Cardenas can be reached jcardenas@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4224.

Clearwater public housing site cleared for new uses 05/26/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 28, 2008 7:18pm]

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