ST. PETERSBURG – Amber Eckloff and her boyfriend both work, but have been homeless with their five boys for almost a year.
Eckloff, 33, says they’ve lived in about six motels and, at times, their van. Their current home is a room at the Bayway Inn on 34th Street S, where Pinellas County School District buses stop to pick up students whose families live at the motel.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman says these are some of the people his 10-year plan to alleviate the city’s affordable housing crisis is designed to help. “If this works and we’re successful, then they will be able to find a place to live which they can afford,” he said.
A major part of his comprehensive plan is construction and preservation of 2,400 affordable multifamily units. An estimated $60 million in city money will go toward the effort.
“Where we see opportunity is in multifamily developments, especially ones that we own the land,” Kriseman said. “A big cost driver for apartments is the cost of the land and the construction costs. If we are able to control some of those costs, it affects the rents people pay. We will be looking for opportunities where the city has land and also offer developers incentives.”
Kriseman announced his plan this summer, a few months after residents in a west St. Petersburg neighborhood revolted against a proposal to put affordable housing in their mostly single-family neighborhood.
Others are in the works.
The Shores Apartments, in the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area, is planned for 26th Avenue S and 31st Street. It promises 51, one-, two- and three-bedroom units and will cost about $12 million. The City Council approved $567,500 to boost the chance that the developer, Richman Group of Florida, will get low income housing tax credits from the Florida Housing Finance Corporation.
Further south, a faded motel will be demolished for the Avery Commons apartments. The city has committed $90,000 to the project, which will also receive low income housing tax credits. Scott Macdonald, executive vice president and CFO of Blue Sky Communities, said the 65-unit development will consist of two buildings at 3900 34th St. S and 3319 39th Ave. S. The $15 million one- and two-bedroom complex will include a gym, community room and “significant bike parking,” he said.
A project proposed by the Boley Centers is off to a tenuous start. Planned for a site on 54th Avenue S, where neighbors own homes in the $500,000 range, word of the 20-unit development for homeless families was met with alarm. But Council member Steve Kornell, who represents the area, brought attention to the homeless children who attend Maximo Elementary School in the neighborhood.
According to the Pinellas School District, 91 students without permanent homes attended Maximo Elementary last school year. At nearby Bay Point Middle, the number was 102, Bay Point Elementary, 14, and Bay Vista Fundamental, nine.
Judy Ellis, president of the Lakewood Estates Civic Association, had opposed the Boley project, but says the neighborhood will agree to it, if it serves just homeless families. “We have formed a committee to work with them to see what they are doing and what they are planning,” she said.
“We cannot assume that the families that are going to go in there are going to be free of addiction, or even mental problems, but ultimately, the aim is to get families out of those motels and cars and take it on a case-by-case basis. What we are very concerned about is that we don’t have people wandering off their property and into Lakewood Estates."
“We are certainly willing to work with the neighborhood,” said Jack Humburg, Boley’s executive vice president of housing, development and ADA services. He added, though, that the organization has not yet applied for funding and doesn’t “have any commitments for development on that site at this time.”
Some worry that the city’s affordable housing developments could become concentrated in the neighborhoods south of Central Avenue. “When we build a predominance of affordable housing in one area, when you put a concentration of affordable housing in one area, what you’ve effectively done is segregation,” Kornell said.
"Personally, when you hear affordable housing, some people react negatively to it,” said Tom Ando, president of the Broadwater Civic Association, a neighborhood of waterfront homes west of 34th Street S. “The bottom line is that the more people there are in the area, that’s more of a chance that we are going to get more amenities, restaurants, retail business....I look at it as a positive, as long as it is done right.”
Joshua Johnson, St. Petersburg’s director of housing and community development, pointed to affordable housing developments in other areas of the city, such as Urban Landings apartments downtown and Booker Creek Apartments off 13th Avenue N. Senior housing development coordinator Stephanie Lampe said sites sometimes are determined by state requirements governing proximity to schools, public transportation and medical facilities.
Concentrating affordable housing in southern neighborhoods is “the last thing we want to have happen,” Kriseman said. “We want to have a mix of housing....We are looking all around the city for opportunities to do it."
Kornell wants such properties to be “safe, sanitary and affordable” and is advocating that contracts with developers who benefit from public money make sure that they maintain their properties. “Developers taking advantage of poor people is what I’m trying to prevent,” he said.
Other projects on the horizon include Delmar745, near Fourth Avenue S and Eighth Street. The McCormack Baron Salazar project, which outraged neighboring condo owners, is expected to be finished in early 2020. Boley will provide services to clients who were once homeless in 33 of the 65 units.
Susan Myers, CEO of the Pinellas County Homeless Leadership Board, said “significant dollars” are available in the rapid rehousing program for homeless people. The problem “is finding affordable housing for people to move into and assuring that people can maintain that housing with the wages that they have,” she said.
Eckloff said St. Vincent de Paul has been paying for her family to stay at the Bayway Inn and will pay up to six months’ rent when they find somewhere permanent. But finding housing could be difficult.
“Since last October, St. Vincent de Paul has moved 276 households into affordable units, just in Pinellas County," Michael Raposa, chief executive officer of St. Vincent de Paul said. “However, the majority of them were small households of one or two people. It is more of a struggle to find affordable large units with three or more bedrooms.”