ST. PETERSBURG — The decision to move seniors out of the only remaining original section of Jordan Park in 2017 was supposed to be the first step in the redevelopment of the city’s first Black public housing complex.
Instead, it ushered in a period of turmoil at the St. Petersburg Housing Authority during which city leaders replaced most of its governing board, the agency’s chief executive officer was fired, and the project was repeatedly delayed.
More than three years later, the project finally appears to be back on track.
Pinellas County commissioners on Tuesday greenlighted a $38.8 million bond issue through the Housing Finance Authority of Pinellas County to provide a major part of the funding for the housing authority’s plan to build a three-story, 60-home apartment complex for seniors and to renovate more than 200 family apartments.
Housing authority officials hope to finalize a funding package by the start of summer. Construction could begin shortly after that and could take up to two years, said Chief Executive Officer Michael Lundy, who was hired in June with clear direction from the agency’s governing board that Jordan Park should be his top priority.
“This is a major milestone for the St. Petersburg Housing Authority,” Lundy said. “There’s many other things we want to do and other redevelopment opportunities, but Jordan Park is front and center.”
Modernizing the housing complex near 22nd Street and Ninth Avenue S is estimated to cost about $72 million, significantly more than the $20 million price tag the project had in 2017. Most of that increase is not due to delays but because the housing authority has added extras, including new washing machines and dryers, off-street parking, gutters and downspouts and back-door awnings, said Brian Evjen, director of development at the housing authority’s development partner, Norstar Development USA.
“It’s a lot of convenience and comfort-type items to improve residents’ lifestyle,” Evjen said.
The bond issue must still be approved by the board of the Housing Finance Authority of Pinellas County. The housing authority is also planning to ask the St. Petersburg City Council to approve an award of community redevelopment funds and to sell tax credits to an investor through an agreement with the Florida Housing Finance Corp.
Seniors who were relocated from Jordan Park’s craftsman-style bungalows will have right of first refusal to return when the senior building is complete, said Lundy. Those homes date back to the original construction of Jordan Park in 1937.
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The renovation of the 206 family homes, which are still occupied, is more complicated and will be done in two phases.
About 90 families will be given housing vouchers and temporarily relocated while their homes, a mixture of duplexes and larger multi-family buildings, undergo substantial renovation. That includes essentials like new electrical panels compatible with modern electric water heaters, air-conditioning units, attic insulation and an irrigation system throughout the entire complex.
When the first phase is complete, the remaining residents will move into the renovated units while the other homes are worked on. As with displaced seniors, those families who were relocated will have the right to move back.
Commissioner Rene Flowers, who grew up in Jordan Park, said she was primarily concerned with the relocation of residents. Lundy promised to assist displaced residents in finding Section 8 housing during the renovation, she said.
”I think they’re going to have a hell of a time (finding homes), because people have a hell of a time right now,” she said.
Another concern is that residents who use Section 8 HUD vouchers to rent cannot break their leases mid term, or they risk losing their vouchers. It may be difficult for them to move back in if the renovation isn’t completed in line with their leases in their temporary homes. Lundy told Flowers the housing authority would negotiate with landlords in the hopes they can be flexible.
The housing authority began planning the redevelopment of Jordan Park shortly after buying it back from a property developer in 2017. It quickly became controversial with many local Black leaders critical of the agency’s decision to demolish the historic bungalows instead of renovating them.
There was also criticism that residents had been relocated into poor quality housing. That led to strained relations between the agency and City Council members, who refused to provide a letter of support that the agency said was required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The project hit another roadblock when City Council members approved Mayor Rick Kriseman’s recommendation to remove three Housing Authority board members from office for lack of oversight of the agency’s Chief Executive Officer Tony Love. Kriseman also declined to give second terms to two other board members including Basha P. Jordan Jr., the grandson of businessman Elder Jordan Sr., who donated the land for the project.
The agency’s new board fired Love in August 2019, effectively resetting the project.