Florida Home Partnership making housing affordable in Hillsborough

Eileen Burke went from a Florida Home Partnership client to coordinator. She’s overseeing Bayou Pass Phase III in Ruskin.
Eileen Burke went from a Florida Home Partnership client to coordinator. She’s overseeing Bayou Pass Phase III in Ruskin.
Published Oct. 11, 2012

Alexander Woods, a community of 80 townhomes on Maki Road in Plant City, is moving toward completion after being abandoned by a developer several years ago.

This is just one of the ways Florida Home Partnership is influencing affordable housing in Hillsborough County.

The Ruskin nonprofit agency is teaming up with Hillsborough County Affordable Housing Services to complete the two- and three-bedroom, 2 1/2 bath townhomes at Alexander Woods over the next three years with the help of a $2.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

"This project will create about $8 million worth of economic activity for Plant City and Hillsborough County in an area that was blighted," says Earl A. Pfeiffer, Florida Home Partnership executive director. "It's designed to move stagnant housing inventory and will put lots of construction workers and building trades back to work, as well as creating a good real estate climate."

Serving a somewhat higher income base than its normal clientele, Alexander Woods' townhomes will range from $90,000 for a three-bedroom unit to $88,000 for a two-bedroom unit, with amenities that include a pool, playground and community room.

Lanette Glass, planning section manager for affordable housing services, calls the community revitalization a win-win, especially for municipal employees.

"It's a great location for teachers and school staff that work across the street at Plant City High School," Glass said. "It's not far from downtown Plant City or downtown Tampa for municipal workers, police officers. Moms with children will love it because they don't have to take care of the property. Maintenance is included."

Florida Home Partnership, a government-sponsored affordable housing program, has helped 550 low- and moderate-income families build and own their first homes, often with no money down.

The usual down payment is sweat equity, requiring a minimum of 600 hours of labor to build a home. The labor involves different types of unskilled and semi-skilled construction for which Florida Home provides construction supervisors to assist and guide all phases of the home building process.

Eileen Burke represents one of the partnership's best success stories. A single mother of two who built her home with the Florida Home Partnership in 1998, Burke is now a seven-year employee who moved from homeowner association president to board member to special projects coordinator. She's now a licensed residential contractor and certifying agent for the Florida Green Building Coalition.

Thanks to Burke, the Florida Home Partnership uses 32 percent less energy than it did seven years ago, according to a recent study by TECO.

"I've always been an environmentalist," said Burke, whom Pfeiffer refers to as the Mother Teresa of green building. "It's part of who I was to begin with. I wanted to make our homes more affordable than conventional housing by making improvements over time, in phases that didn't cost anything extra or were comparable."

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Alexander Woods will include green features, as does the partnership's Bayou Pass community on 14th Avenue SE in Ruskin, a sweat equity development currently in Phase III construction.

Pfeiffer admits that building green hasn't been an easy sell to some traditional builders and contractors, but it provides a strong, competitive advantage.

"Our homes are better sealed, they're healthier and the air quality is better," Pfeiffer said. "Overall, there's less maintenance and lower operating costs. The upside is we can sell more homes, keep people employed and help the economy."

Hendirk Portocarrero, a 25-year-old first-time single-family home owner who completed 600 hours of labor and moved into Bayou Pass in June, is grateful.

"I'm saving so much money compared to apartment living," Portocarrero said. "It's such a good feeling. Because I put so much hard work into my home, I appreciate it more, and so do my neighbors."

Besides Bayou Pass, which still has two more phases to complete, and Alexander Woods, Florida Home Partnership is busy working on several other projects and sites in Hillsborough County, including a series of triplex rentals near USF and a group home for a nonprofit that serves disabled adults.

Those interested in learning more about the Florida Home Partnership program can call (813) 672-7889 for details.