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Tarpon's Mango Circle residents wait, hope for funding for new complex

TARPON SPRINGS

At the Mango Circle public housing complex, many of the residents have not been lucky in life.

Some are single mothers. Others are uneducated or disabled. Many are out of work. All are poor.

For two years, they've also been unlucky in the state lottery system that allocates millions of federal tax credits for affordable housing.

They didn't get the winning numbers, and the money was disbursed elsewhere. So they stayed in their ramshackle housing units.

This year, they hope, things might be different.

The Florida Housing Finance Corporation, the state agency that allocates federal tax credits for public housing construction, will use a new merit-based system this year to award $44.2 million in credits to affordable housing projects across the state, said agency spokeswoman Cecka Rose Green.

Although a lottery will still be used as a tie-breaker, the new system is designed to put more weight on things like proximity to public transit and the number of people who will be served in awarding the credits.

"Because of the climate we are in, we have many applications and a finite pot of funding," Green said. "We're trying to target the proposals that studies show us are going to satisfy the particular need."

Under the former process, about three out of four finalists were rejected because they didn't have the right lottery numbers.

The Tarpon Springs Housing Authority has long hoped to rebuild Mango Circle. Its construction partner, the Pinnacle Housing Group, hopes this will be the year it gets tax credits and can start construction.

Meanwhile, the Housing Authority has delayed all but the most necessary upgrades and repairs.

For years, the carpets and the linoleum at Mango Circle have peeled. Sags and leaks in the roof have been repaired piecemeal. And many of the windows have been left unsealed, allowing heat and air conditioning to escape and causing high energy bills for residents.

Housing Authority director Pat Weber said that some housing authorities get an influx of funding to build new housing just after they have put on new roofs or installed new air conditioners. She intends to wait for funding to replace the whole complex.

"I'm more optimistic," she said.

The vision for the 9.5-acre property at Mango Circle is a far cry from the dilapidated conditions that exist now.

The 60 existing units would be demolished, and in their place would rise the 106-unit Eagle Ridge apartments, with tile floors, granite countertops, energy-saving appliances and a swimming pool.

All of the units would be taxpayer-subsidized, and 60 of them would remain public housing units in which tenants are charged rent based on their incomes. The rents for the other 46 units would be based on a pre-determined market rate for affordable housing.

The new units could help alleviate Tarpon Springs' affordable housing waiting list, which has about 518 people.

"You deserve to live nice no matter how much rent you pay," said Kirstin Coleman, a Mango Circle resident and 24-year-old mother of two.

If the project is funded, people who live at Mango Circle will get vouchers to rent elsewhere for a year while the new apartments are built.

The state is scheduled to approve award recipients Dec. 13.

Tarpon Springs commissioners praised Pinnacle Housing Group recently for its work on other projects and its persistence in securing funding for Mango Circle.

"The Mango Circle projects are old and they're basically making do right now," said Mayor David Archie. "I think it would be great not only for those residents but other individuals that would like to have affordable housing."

Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at bdavis@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4155. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters or mail letters to 1130 Cleveland St., Suite 100-A, Clearwater, FL 33755.

Tarpon's Mango Circle residents wait, hope for funding for new complex 08/16/13 [Last modified: Friday, August 16, 2013 6:09pm]
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