ST. PETERSBURG — It’s been more than two years since the St. Petersburg Housing Authority moved residents out of the historic village at Jordan Park, a first step toward redeveloping the south St. Petersburg housing complex.
But its craftsman-style bungalows remain vacant and the agency has yet to finalize a financing plan for the project, leading the federal government to warn that it may revoke a funding commitment.
In a letter sent Jan. 31, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said that the housing agency missed several deadlines to submit financing plans for the $52 million project. Some deadlines date as far back as May 2018, when the agency was led by Tony Love, who was later fired. There was also a four-month delay because a required environmental study was not commissioned.
What’s more, the project has been on pause since September while consultants explore whether the Housing Authority should apply for a different federal funding program that would provide an additional $6 million toward rehabilitating Jordan Park. Federal officials on Tuesday gave the agency until March 20 to make a decision.
If that deadline is not met, the project would lose its award of federal rent subsidies, which the Housing Authority is relying on to pay back construction loans and other expenses.
“You’ve missed so many milestones along the way,” said Gregory Byrne, director of the federal agency’s Affordable Housing Transaction Division, who dialed into an emergency Housing Authority meeting Tuesday.
The Housing Authority began work on redeveloping Jordan Park shortly after buying it in 2016. It included rehabilitating about 200 units of public housing and demolishing 31 historic bungalows, believed to be the first African American development project in St. Petersburg. A 60-unit senior housing building will replace them.
The financing plan for the project was put together by Love and consultants and relies on rent subsidies through the federal Rental Assistance Demonstration program.
But after Love was fired in August, the agency was run for about two months by leaders of the Tampa Housing Authority. They expressed concerns about the Jordan Park plan and recommended that the agency apply instead for Section 18 funding, a federal program for the demolition and rebuilding of older public housing.
That program will provide substantially higher rent subsidies, enabling the project to include essentials like new electrical panels compatible with modern electric water heaters, air-conditioning units and clothes dryers. It will also pay for attic insulation and an irrigation system throughout the entire complex, raising the overall cost to about $64 million.
“It didn’t feel like the budget was adequately put together,” said Leroy Moore, the Tampa Housing Authority’s chief operating officer. “You go through such turmoil in moving people out, you want that to be a 15 to 20 year repair. You don’t want to do piecemeal work.”
Federal officials also said Tuesday they had concerns about whether there would be sufficient funds for ongoing maintenance under the original plan.
Consultants working on the project said Tuesday they could finalize a Section 18 application within about two weeks. It would need to be approved by the Housing Authority board at its Feb. 27 meeting.
Still, some board members were clearly frustrated by the lack of progress.
“We have paid to the tune of over $1 million to date on a project that remains stalled," said Terri Lipsey-Scott. “We have nothing to show for the investments that have been made.”
The original plan for Jordan Park was well underway when the majority of the housing agency’s board was appointed in 2019 after a tumultuous year. Five board members were replaced by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman in 2019 after a Tampa Bay Times investigation revealed a lack of oversight of the agency.
The agency also came under scrutiny by the federal government after it used agency funds to sue Kriseman and the city of St. Petersburg for that decision. In December, Love sued the Housing Authority in federal court claiming it violated the Family Medical Leave Act when it dismissed him.
TAMPA BAY TIMES INVESTIGATION: ST. PETERSBURG HOUSING AUTHORITY