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HOUSING AUTHORITYTO ACQUIRE COMPLEX

The 34-unit Saratoga apartments will give the agency some autonomy.

The St. Petersburg Housing Authority is taking a historic step toward autonomy Thursday.

That's when the authority expects to close on the 34-unit Saratoga apartment complex, said Darrell Irions, the authority's executive director.

The apartment complex - at 3475 32nd Ave. N and 3480 33rd Ave. N - will be the first property owned by the St. Petersburg Housing Authority that will not be under the control of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Irions said.

That means the local housing authority will be in charge of all aspects of the complex - from the rent rates and tenant criteria to building maintenance.

The project is expected to cost about $3-million, said Audra Butler, housing authority representative.

Finalization of the Saratoga plan is "in keeping with the St. Petersburg Housing Authority Board of Commissioners' strategic plan to increase local affordable housing options," Butler said.

"The authority is selling obsolete and unsustainable projects and using the proceeds to invest in higher-quality affordable housing."

But as the agency moves forward with one project, the fate of another hangs in the balance.

For months, housing authority officials have petitioned the federal agency to lift a restriction on the sale of the Graham-Rogall building at Martin Luther King Jr. Street and Third Avenue S.

The would-be buyers, KEGB, have agreed to pay about $11-million for the building but want to convert the property to condos.

Most of the residents living in the 486-unit building earn less than 30 percent of the area median income.

The housing authority has been slowly moving families out of the building to prepare for the sale.

As of now, about 104 in the 336-unit Graham building are occupied. All of the 150 units in Rogall remain full.

As of this week, the federal government had not lifted the sale ban. That's not stopping the Saratoga project from progressing, Butler said.

Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at nhutcheson@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8828.

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