TAMPA — A big winner when the Tampa Bay area scored housing stimulus money might turn out to be a nine-employee nonprofit tucked in a working-class block of Tampa.
Neighborhood Lending Partners will manage a $50 million award to Pinellas and Pasco counties to buy, revamp and resell foreclosed properties for affordable housing.
But their work won't come cheaply. Management costs to orchestrate the project are budgeted for $5 million — the maximum allowed and a bigger share than other Florida stimulus winners charge.
For example, Miami-based Neighborhood Housing Services of South Florida set aside $3.6 million to manage an $89 million grant. In Sarasota, the city budgeted $1.7 million to run a $23 million grant. And in Tampa, housing authority official Leroy Moore said he anticipates spending less than 10 percent on administrative costs for a $38 million grant.
Neighborhood Lending Partners president Debra Reyes said her nonprofit and the counties likely will not spend all $5 million on management. A budget released Monday calls for $1 million to go to the nonprofit.
Most money will go through Pinellas and Pasco to pay for surveying, engineering, legal work and other services needed to buy, fix and sell houses, Reyes and county officials said. Any unspent money will go toward housing, she said.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will monitor the spending.
Reyes said seeking less than 10 percent didn't make sense. Going back for more later if needed, they decided, was unlikely to succeed.
"We wanted to get as much as possible," said Carlos Rivas, chief financial officer of the nonprofit.
The organization has ridden the ups and downs of area housing. Two years ago, six of the group's 14 employees made $109,000 or more, according to tax returns and top executives.
Now three workers make at least six figures, after three employees were let go last year as revenue plummeted, said Reyes, a former compliance office and senior banker who helped start the nonprofit 17 years ago.
Reyes said the organization has trimmed pay and benefits, including making five layoffs, to adapt to economic realities. The nonprofit plans to hire two people because of the stimulus.
"We feel like we've really stabilized," said Reyes, whose own compensation went from $246,000 in 2008 to $191,000 in 2009, tax returns show.
The national average in 2009 was $160,000 for nonprofit CEOs, but the pay varies with the complexity of jobs, according to a compensation survey by Charity Navigator, a group that evaluates charities nationally.
Under the counties' plan, the grant money will be used for loans to help people buy affordable housing. It also will pay for nonprofit groups to buy foreclosed homes and apartment complexes, upgrade them to meet federal standards and then resell them.
The program is supposed to reach 1,700 housing units, Reyes said.
A key test in evaluating the nonprofit's performance will be whether the agency and the counties push as much money as possible to other nonprofits and developers instead of their own coffers, said Alan Mallach, a nonresident senior fellow on housing at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
"Ten percent is not a crazy amount as a general proposition," he said. "There are programs that can be done for less, and there are projects that 10 percent is really kind of tight."
Having to do surveying, inspections and legal work on each property drives up the cost, said Mallach, a former New Jersey housing agency official.
Pinellas and Pasco officials say they have confidence in Neighborhood Lending Partners, saying its record and ability to add private loans makes it right to run the grant.
For the two counties' effort, the nonprofit has put together $18 million in private loans from nine banks — a key part to landing the grant, said George Romagnoli, community development manager for Pasco County.
The money will target neighborhoods from Dade City to Largo with high foreclosures and troubled loans looming — and keep people working when unemployment is rising.
"They very patiently worked and found a common ground we can all work on," said Anthony Jones, Pinellas community development director.
Neighborhood Lending Partners, which has affiliates in Jacksonville and Miami, has helped build or revamp 12,000 housing units with $337 million in lending from private and government housing programs since its founding. A consortium of 46 banks power the nonprofit. This will be the nonprofit's largest single project.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. David DeCamp can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8779.