The sale of the St. Petersburg Housing Authority's Graham-Rogall apartment complex closes one chapter in the story of public housing and opens a new one. Proceeds from the sale will enable the Housing Authority to acquire modern housing to provide better options for its low-income clients. And the private renovation of Graham-Rogall into stylish but affordable flats will boost downtown St. Petersburg's growing array of apartments and condominiums.
Urban planners have long said that the key to a successful downtown is to have people living there. Downtown St. Petersburg is flourishing, with a busy night life, cultural activities galore, restaurants and retail.
Four new bayfront condominium towers are nearly sold out, despite their price tags and the sputtering housing market. Occupancies in some older condo complexes are improving. And across First Avenue South from Tropicana Field, the 325-unit Fusion 1560 rental apartments are progressing toward completion.
The mix of housing styles promises an appealingly diverse population downtown — from people who can afford waterfront penthouses at $5 million or more to teachers, police officers and young professionals who want rentals at around $1,000 a month. College students and service workers will be able to find a studio apartment at $495.
And while that variety of housing options is exciting, it's also a positive that public housing clients will benefit.
Several years ago, the Housing Authority concluded it could not afford to renovate the 486-unit Graham-Rogall, built in the 1970s on 10th Street S. Residents were relocated, and the property was put up for sale. Local developer Phil Farley bought the property for $6.8 million on Nov. 1.
Renovation of the apartments is under way, and though they are small, the low rents and modern touches of Farley's Urban Style Flats will appeal to University of South Florida St. Petersburg students and others who need reasonably priced housing.
The Housing Authority plans to use the sale proceeds to build or buy affordable housing in St. Petersburg and the surrounding area. That will offer its clients more opportunities to live in neighborhoods close to schools and jobs and to finally live free of the stigma associated with public housing projects.