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To get state funds, developers must meet guidelines

The guidelines will help the county in choosing which project to back with its limited state funding.

Historically, few developers have wanted to build government-backed, low-income apartments in Pasco County.

So when two developers vied for the Pasco County Housing Finance Authority's limited share of state bond financing last year, authority members were unprepared.

They had no ranking system in place to help select a project.

That changed Thursday, when the authority approved a set of guidelines designed to ensure that the process of picking local projects for state money is fair.

The guidelines still must be approved by the County Commission, said Community Development director and authority adviser Diane Morris.

Now, developers interested in applying through the county for low-interest state loans must provide more information, including a market study of the area, that will help the authority decide which project to back.

Because of the limited amount of money distributed by the state _ last year the state allocated $18-million to a seven-county region that included Pasco _ the authority can only back one project per year or risk jeopardizing its chances of getting any money, Morris has said.

Last year, two developers asked for a total of $16-million. One developer, Orlando-based CED Corp., provided the county with a market study and other information to prove the need for the apartments in west Pasco.

The other team of developers, Tom Tompkins and Todd Borck, didn't provide as much detail as their competitors.

With little information to compare the two projects, the housing finance authority picked Tompkins' Pasco Woods Apartments complex in Wesley Chapel, which cost more per unit to build, served fewer people, had higher rents and required a contentious rezoning.

County commissioners recently signed off on the building site plan for that project, but not before requiring Tompkins to spend as much as $165,300 for road improvements near the intersections of State Road 54 with Old Pasco Road and Oakley Boulevard.

County commissioners were surprised to learn that the Housing Finance Authority, an advisory council for the commission, picked the project that cost more per unit to build.

That led Commissioner Pat Mulieri to call for the development of guidelines that the housing authority approved Thursday.

Mulieri was on vacation Thursday and could not be reached for comment.

Developers asking for state financing in the future also will have to provide the per-unit cost of their projects.

"We could do the math, but why not make them do it up front?" Morris asked the authority Thursday.

Instead of waiting for developers to contact the county, Morris said the county now will solicit requests for proposals. Such requests generally are specific and have deadlines for application.

Morris said after the meeting that she expects developers' interest in building low-income housing in Pasco to remain high. CED Corp. has told the county it is interested in reapplying for the west Pasco project that failed to get the authority's backing last year, she said.

The state's low-interest loans help keep construction costs, and thus rent, low.

_ Information from Times files was used in this report.

_ Times staff writer Alisa Ulferts covers Pasco County government. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is ulfertssptimes.com.

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