ST. PETERSBURG — A North Carolina nonprofit spent $1.6 million to buy 68 homes in Midtown and Childs Park, fueling officials' hopes of a turnaround in some of the city's poor neighborhoods.
Builders of Hope, based in Raleigh, N.C., bought the homes earlier this month from Fort Lauderdale's Dalland Properties, which had scooped up many homes in 2012 with intentions on flipping or renting.
Instead, most of the homes sit vacant and many have racked up code violations.
City leaders are excited about the deal, as Builders of Hope's focus is on rehabbing properties and turning them into affordable housing.
They say it fits in with the city's new housing strategy for rebuilding neighborhoods.
"It's a big coup for the city to have somebody come in and take this many properties," said Mike Dove, the administrator in charge of Neighborhood Affairs. "A big project like this is a big help for our efforts."
The changes could happen relatively soon.
Builders of Hope already pulled permits for 20 of the properties, the majority of which are in the proposed South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area, city officials said.
"Some of the houses will have to be gutted," said Nancy Welsh, the nonprofit's CEO and founder. "Our hope is to be through them all within 90 days. I think it's important for the neighborhoods to see that activity."
The organization plans to sink at least $1.5 million more into the project, she said, adding that the group will rely on local labor for renovations.
City Council member Karl Nurse, who worked behind the scenes to help foster the deal, said he hopes this will be a catalyst for others to invest in the area.
"The critical thing is, beyond this it sort of becomes the anchor you build everything around," he said.
Builders of Hope got its start eight years ago in North Carolina, after Welsh said she noticed a severe lack of resources for affordable housing.
The need was great, she said, but many times government programs couldn't keep up, and smaller nonprofits didn't have the capacity to make great changes.
"Traditionally, all affordable housing has been new construction," she said. "But housing doesn't have to be like water bottles. You don't have to throw them away when they get old."
Builders of Hope, she said, specifically goes after fixer-uppers or foreclosures and sells or rents to low-income residents after rehabbing them.
The strategy is not unlike what many investment firms have done recently in the Tampa Bay area, but Welsh said the difference is that the focus is on affordable housing and not profit.
Last year, Builders of Hope rehabbed 600 units around the country, she said.
The group has bought and upgraded other homes in the Tampa Bay area in recent months, she said, but not like this with a bundle of properties in one area.
Builders of Hope plans to take advantage of the city's popular rebates for rehab program, a program Nurse developed.
Dove said he hopes once people see that the city and nonprofits like Builders of Hope are committed to some of the struggling areas in the cities, more people will come to the table.
"That's exactly our intent — that it'll be a snowball effect," he said.
Kameel Stanley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (727) 893-8643 or on Twitter @cornandpotatoes.