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Midtown housing plans start small

Most of the development news in Midtown lately has been about the planned neighborhood shopping center. However, a new residential element is in the works with two houses nearly finished and more planned.

Like the shopping center, this construction involves the public and private sector.

Pacific International Development Group, a company new to the area with offices on S Pasadena Avenue, is starting small. It has built the two Midtown houses with the aid of the city of St. Petersburg. It has plans for two more, and the city again will help.

And the company, run by a brother and a sister, is buying land where the siblings hope to build a gated community of 10 homes just off Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. S and 22nd Avenue, across from one of the houses they built.

Arnic Robinson and his sister Michele Holton, both originally from the Tampa Bay area, are in the company. Robinson, 43, has been building in California many years. Pacific International is his company, which he recently moved to the Bahamas. He said his sister will head the Midtown projects. Holton, 37, has worked in a number of fields, including with nonprofit groups. This is her first major project. She lives in Tampa. Their mother, Ella Lee, owns Ella's Alterations on Central Avenue.

"I've been wanting to do affordable housing for the last 20 years," Robinson said. "All I know is construction."

Added Holton: "This is a family dream. We wanted to provide affordable housing. We're developing a concept to where we can even hold the mortgage for people who have bad credit." Often lower income workers can afford house payments but have credit problems that make them too risky for traditional lenders.

Holton said they will try a two-year program holding the mortgages to give home buyers a chance to build up their credit.

Midtown is a 5.5-mile section of inner St. Petersburg where a number of lower income residents live. It has been targeted for various programs to increase the livability there. Robinson and Holton built one house at 939 22nd Ave. S and the second at 970 20th Ave. S. Both are four-bedroom, two-bath houses with one-car garages and are for sale for $125,000.

Robinson said appliances, fixtures and other appointments are in mid-price range rather than the cheapest.

"Everything in the houses was selected by us," Holton said.

The city made interest-free loans to the developers with which to buy land and use for closing costs and the like. It also made a construction loan for both houses, said Thomas K. deYampert, manager of the city Housing and Community Development section. Repayment is required when the house is sold.

In the case of 939 22nd Ave. S, the city made a loan in the amount of $99,200, of which $93,000 was construction costs. For 970 20th Ave. S, the loan amount was the same but construction costs were $94,000.

"We call them investor sales loans," deYampert said. "In reality they are single-family development loans aimed at developers."

The purpose of this loan tool is to draw developers to Midtown and other designated areas of the city and to give beginning developers a faster start.

"We monitor them very carefully," deYampert said of developers using these loans. "We require them to understand the neighborhood before they begin building." He said they must be able to sell and market in the neighborhood where they want to build.

The city plans will help Robinson and Holton on two more houses in 12th Street S in the same way after the first two are sold.

The city is involved in the the Midtown neighborhood shopping center also. It spent a little more than a million dollars putting together a block of land at 18th Avenue S and 22nd Street. Officials now are considering a bid by a nonprofit company to build a Kash n' Karry grocery store on the spot along with several other shops.

Robinson and Holton plan a gated community with 10 homes on land just off Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street S and 22nd Avenue, across from one of the houses they built. They declined to reveal more details about the type of houses planned there.

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