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For those who struggle, new housing opens in Tarpon Springs

Volunteers of America of Florida finished up apartments at 802 Mango St. in Tarpon Springs for limited-income renters.
Published Jul. 2, 2013

TARPON SPRINGS — More than a year ago, the apartment complex at 802 Mango St. was a community eyesore, a vandalized cluster of unfinished units facing foreclosure.

Now the complex is a welcoming new space with crisp beige buildings, bright red doors and a fenced-in playground with a wooden swing set, a shiny green slide and fresh mulch.

On the inside, the apartments smell of fresh paint and cleaning supplies. The floors' fluffy brown carpets have been stepped on only by a person with a vacuum. And the full-sized washers and dryers are spotless white.

Who put on those finishing touches? And who are the lucky new tenants?

Enter Volunteers of America of Florida, a nonprofit organization that helps provide homes for people who are struggling financially. Using $3.6 million in grants from Pinellas County, the organization bought the property from developers who were in foreclosure and is accepting applications from people who meet the income requirements.

"We want to have good quality people who want to improve their lives," said Kevin Letch, the organization's vice president of housing and developing.

The county set aside grant money for the project under the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program, designed to rejuvenate communities that suffer from foreclosure and abandonment.

So far, about half of the 36 units are spoken for. The first tenants are expected to move in by next week, pending approval from the county.

The rent is based on income, with one-bedroom units from $450 to $625, two-bedrooms from $525 to $800 and three-bedrooms from $600 to $1,000. To meet income guidelines, tenants may earn $19,900 to $79,125, depending on the number of people they have to care for.

The complex is in a mixed area, sandwiched between public housing and a gated mobile home park where most of the residents are retirees.

And the reception from the neighborhood has been mixed as well.

Some people from the mobile home park have expressed concern the complex might attract a criminal element, while people in the nearby public housing have mostly applauded the new addition to the neighborhood.

Some in the latter group have filled out applications for the new complex, hoping to move.

The new apartments are completely separate from the public housing units nearby that are managed by the Tarpon Springs Housing Authority.

Barbara Venditto, property manager for the new complex, said a part of the organization's mission is to provide services.

Staff will be getting to know the tenants and trying to provide help as they learn about their needs, she said.

The complex's focal point is a community center, which will offer seminars on things like resume writing and financial management. The space also has a computer lab.

Community members may donate gently-used furniture and other goods to help people get settled.

Paula Vasquez, 24, said she plans to apply for an apartment for herself and her 5-year-old son Sebastian. A single mother, Vasquez is a manager at MetroPCS, where she works 40 hours per week at $9 per hour. She lives in Port Richey but watched Sebastian play Monday outside her mother's public housing unit on Mango Street.

She thinks the new complex might be a good place to raise her son when she goes back to school to study business. "I want to leave (Sebastian) with a great empire," she said, adding that she believes people should use as little public assistance as possible. "I don't ever want him to have to go down the wrong road for the things he needs or wants."

People who want to donate or volunteer can contact Wendy Whitescarver at wwhitescarver@voa-fla.org or call (727) 637-7730. Potential tenants can call (727) 498-4801.

Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at bdavis@tampabay.com or (850) 323-0353. To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters or mail to 1130 Cleveland St., Suite 100, Clearwater, FL 33755.

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