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St. Petersburg Housing Authority's purchase of Jordan Park is imminent

(left to right) Janae Bell, 13 gets help putting mulch into a bucket from her little sister Lauren Everette, 3, at the Jordan Park Apartments in St. Petersburg on Saturday, December 10, 2016. Leadership Florida volunteers partnered with other organizations including the Pinellas County Urban League and St. Petersburg Housing Authority for a revitalization project of the apartment complex. The volunteers picked up trash, pulled weeds and installed new mulch along plant bed areas.
(left to right) Janae Bell, 13 gets help putting mulch into a bucket from her little sister Lauren Everette, 3, at the Jordan Park Apartments in St. Petersburg on Saturday, December 10, 2016. Leadership Florida volunteers partnered with other organizations including the Pinellas County Urban League and St. Petersburg Housing Authority for a revitalization project of the apartment complex. The volunteers picked up trash, pulled weeds and installed new mulch along plant bed areas.
Published Jan. 5, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG —The St. Petersburg Housing Authority is close to buying back Jordan Park — a public housing complex it once owned — without having to pay a penny, except for closing costs.

The agency had hoped to close on the 24-acre property last fall, but now says it could sign a purchase agreement any day now. The closing is pending approval from both the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Florida Housing Finance Corp.

Negotiations to buy back the low-income complex from Jordan Park Development Partners — a partnership of the Richman Group of Florida and Landex of Jacksonville — have been ongoing for several months. The Housing Authority planned to pay $400,000 for the property near 22nd Street and Ninth Avenue S, but in the end, said it got a better deal.

"Although we don't have a final signed purchase agreement yet, the seller reduced the purchase price to zero several months ago," said Sandy MacLennan, a lawyer representing the Housing Authority.

"The only condition was that the $400,000 that the Housing Authority would have paid to the seller would now be required to be used to pay for repairs and improvement at Jordan Park." The Housing Authority also got help from St. Petersburg, which agreed to forgive a $3.1 million loan. That agreement also came with conditions.

Last year, officials were incensed to learn of residents' complaints about rodents, mold, mildew, unkempt landscaping and inoperable appliances at the 237-unit community in the city's historic African-American district. Residents reported that Winn­Residential, the Boston-based management company hired by Jordan Park Development Partners to manage the property, had been unresponsive to their complaints. At the time, the Housing Authority said there was little it could do.

St. Petersburg City Council member Karl Nurse supports the city's recent agreement with the agency because it improves accountability for living conditions at the complex.

"We're in a better position than we were before," he said. "As part of the forgiveness, we have a much tighter arrangement with who owns and manages (Jordan Park) and access for city staff. We're making sure that there is a structure that provides clear accountability."

Under the agreement, the Housing Authority will have to maintain certain housing standards at the property. The agency has also agreed that residents will not face repercussions for their complaints. And it agreed to keep the city informed of renovation plans.

Discussions to put Jordan Park's 104 buildings back under the control of the Housing Authority took on new urgency last year, when residents went public with their grievances about slipshod maintenance. The complaints drew the attention of Mayor Rick Kriseman and the district's new congressman, former Gov. Charlie Crist.

The city's oldest public housing was originally built between 1939 and 1942, rising on land donated by African-American businessman Elder Jordan Sr. His grandson, Basha P. Jordan Jr., now sits on the Housing Authority's board.

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The deteriorating, substandard housing was demolished in 2000. Redevelopment came with $27 million from HUD, a $500,000 federal home loan, low-income housing tax credits — crucial to attracting private investment — and a $3.1 million loan from St. Petersburg for infrastructure.

Under a complex agreement, the Housing Authority and Jordan Park Development Partners signed an agreement in 2001 that gave the private developer ownership of the buildings. The Housing Authority maintained ownership of the land. The terms called for Jordan Park Development Partners to pay nothing to lease the land and to be responsible for maintaining the entire property. The developer also would receive a monthly payment for each of the occupied subsidized units. That is currently $184 a month.

In 2016, 15 years after the agreement was signed, the tax credits — applied toward the federal tax bills of Jordan Park's investors — expired. That, said Melinda Perry, the Housing Authority's chief operating officer, is "usually when developers get out."

It also provided an opportune time for the Housing Authority to take over.

"Jordan Park is an important part of the history of St. Petersburg," Tony Love, the Housing Authority's chief executive officer, said in a statement.

The agency, "wants to be sure that the development is managed and maintained to the same standards" as other properties it owns, Love said.

"The best way to do that is for the Housing Authority to buy back the development."

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

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