ST. PETERSBURG — Patrick Small and his friends sat sipping soda Wednesday morning as the clouds rolled in and a well-dressed group of people huddled in front of the blue house next door.
It was the most activity Small had seen there in a long time.
Small, 59, has lived on 14th Avenue S for more than a decade. He used to have neighbors. But the last people left six or seven months ago, and the windows were boarded up.
After noticing someone cutting grass a few weeks ago, Small and his friends wondered if the home was being readied for auction.
In fact, the home at 4200 14th Ave. S is one of 68 properties being renovated by a North Carolina nonprofit called Builders of Hope, which spent about $1.6 million on a bulk sale in May.
Within a few months, the organization plans to have the homes renovated and back on the market. Those that don't sell may be rented.
It's the biggest affordable housing effort the Childs Park and Midtown neighborhoods have seen in years.
Executives of the nonprofit, City Council members, the mayor and other top administrators gathered on the home's front steps Wednesday morning to celebrate the occasion.
Unique Gore, who lives across town and had come to visit Small, watched as Mayor Rick Kriseman and Builders of Hope CEO Lew Schulman cut a purple streamer.
"I think it's great," said Gore, 38. "They're starting to fix up the area. I've walked through here and seen the boarded-up homes. It's just an eyesore."
In 2008, just as the housing bubble was bursting, the compact house, which is right around the corner from the Childs Park recreation center, was valued at $79,000.
Last year, the Pinellas County Property Appraiser's Office gave it a just market value of $15,405.
Before the photos and speeches, city officials took a few minutes to look inside.
An abandoned baby bouncer lay tipped over in a corner of the living room, not far from a comforter. A pair of tree-shaped air fresheners ("New Car Smell" and "Passion") hanging from two floor lamps did nothing to mitigate the stale odor that permeated all 912 square feet of the house.
Kriseman ducked into the kitchen, then looked around a corner.
"Oh, it's got three bedrooms," he said. "It's got possibilities."
Later, Kriseman, Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin and Urban Affairs director Nikki Gaskin-Capehart walked over to Small and his friends to talk up the project.
"I think this is going to be good," Kriseman told the men.
Officials already have pulled dozens of permits on the houses and construction is under way.
A few are already complete and on the market, including a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom home at 1745 44th St. S listed last week for $89,500.
Sixteen of the homes have occupants, even though they were sold to the nonprofit as being vacant.
"Only four of them have produced leases," said Jim Caramello, the Florida Market Director for Builders of Hope. "The rest are squatters."
The nonprofit will replace any roof with less than five years of usefulness left, he said, and put cages around air conditioners, since most of the units at the other homes were stripped.
They also will try to reuse whatever materials they can, he said.
They are hiring local contractors and hope to have the work done within 90 days, Schulman said. The average renovation costs between $24,000 and $26,000.
The blue house on 14th Avenue will get a new roof, new siding, new flooring, new paint, a new heating and cooling system and a new porch.
"This is by far not the worst house in the group," Caramello said. "And we'll get rid of that smell."
Caramello grew up in St. Petersburg, raised in a house not far from Northeast High School.
A project like this is overdue, he said.
Contractors will likely start work on the blue house this weekend.
Kameel Stanley can be reached at email@example.com, (727) 893-8643 or on Twitter @cornandpotatoes.