ST. PETERSBURG — Habitat for Humanity chose its small satellite office in one of the city’s most underprivileged areas to make a significant announcement.
During the next 12 months, the agency will leverage $6 million in tax credits to build 45 affordable single-family homes in St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park.
More than half will be built in the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area, defined by predominantly low-income, African-American neighborhoods. The remainder will be in Tellor Estates in Pinellas Park, where Habitat launched one of its largest affordable housing developments earlier this year.
Mike Sutton, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties, said the nonprofit has already identified properties and families for the new undertaking. Habitat is using the new markets tax credit program — an incentive for private investors to invest in low income areas — for the new housing. It is partnering with Hancock Whitney Bank.
“This is incredible news,” St. Petersburg Council Chair Charlie Gerdes said after Wednesday’s announcement. “Six million in private money is just an incredible sign that our private sector understands we’re only as good as the struggling among us. They see that this will benefit not just the 45 families, but the entire community.”
Sutton said Habitat has built 33 homes in the South St. Petersburg CRA since 2017, with another 14 scheduled to close in the next few months. He explained the reason his organization is focusing on the struggling St. Petersburg area: “We recognize a lot of broken promises to this community have created a lot of hurt over the years,” he said, adding that Habitat “aspires to be a catalyst for good in a community rich in history” by giving residents the opportunity of home ownership.
Joining Gerdes for Wednesday's outdoor program were City Council colleagues Gina Driscoll and Brandi Gabbard. Also present were Council member-elect Deborah-Figgs Sanders, Pinellas County Commissioners Charlie Justice and Ken Welch and Pinellas County School Board member Rene Flowers.
“Everyone deserves a decent place to live,” Sutton told the small crowd, adding that one in six families in Pinellas County spend more than half of their income on housing.
Earlier, Sutton told the Tampa Bay Times that Habitat currently has about 100 families in its pipeline for housing and that construction has already begun in this latest push for more affordable homes. This new initiative “means their opportunity to realize home ownership will come sooner,” he said.
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Would-be Habitat homeowners earn 30 to 80 percent of the area median income and must save $1,000 toward their down payment. They also must attend 20 home buying classes, including financial management, and complete 350 to 450 hours of “sweat equity," which means working on their own home and others. The homes are financed with a zero-interest loan.
Habitat, which has accelerated its efforts to provide affordable housing in the past three years, has averaged 60 new homes a year during that period. “Our ultimate goal is to serve as many families as possible,” Sutton said.
Wednesday’s announcement was made at Habitat’s Resource Center on 22nd Street S, in the historic African-American business and entertainment district. The office, which opened early in 2018, was “a way to go deeper and wider in the community” by bringing Habitat services “right into Midtown,” Sutton said.