PINELLAS PARK — Over the next two years, 51 affordable homes will be built in what is expected to be a newly annexed section of Pinellas Park.
The project, which will eventually grow to 75 single-family homes, will be the largest development yet by Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties.
State, county and city officials joined Habitat on Monday at the site off 62nd Avenue and 68th Street, near Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Elementary School, to celebrate the historic project's groundbreaking.
"How exciting is this? Empowering through home ownership," state Rep. Jennifer Webb, D-Gulfport said to the crowd, most taking shelter under a tent from the sweltering heat. "And it's not just empowering families or individuals. It's also empowering community. It's not just the community of the 75 homes that are going to be built here, in this area, but the broader community."
Work on the first 15 energy-efficient houses is expected to begin in a few weeks. Nathalia Richards, 28, and her daughter Nalani Gamble, 2, will be among the first to move in. Richards, a payroll clerk who will graduate in December from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, said theirs will be a two-bedroom.two-bath home. A St. Petersburg resident, she said she doesn't mind moving to Pinellas Park for "a better future, a better environment" to bring up her daughter.
In a county where available land is scarce, Habitat was able to buy the initial 7.3 acres for $2.1 million from Tellor Affordable Homes.
"It was very important to them for the property to remain affordable," Habitat's president and CEO Mike Sutton said. "I think a lot of them, because they turned down some pretty lucrative offers. We are constantly bidding for property against for-profit bidders."
The new development will be known as Tellor Estates. In coming years, Habitat expects to acquire another two and a half acres of adjacent property now occupied by mobile home residents who rent their lots from Tellor Affordable Homes.
"As they move off the property, we have first right of refusal to purchase the 24 lots," Sutton said. "The majority are elderly and have been living there for 30 to 40 years. Habitat is not in the business of displacing these residents. That's why the seller decided to work with Habitat."
He said the mobile home residents will be given the opportunity to participate in the Habitat program. But for Dennis Madison, walking his dog, Daisy, on property staked and partially cleared for construction, his immediate worry is the disruption that the work will cause in his tiny community.
The project is being supported by Pinellas County, which provided a zero-interest loan for more than $800,000 to buy the land. Pinellas County Commissioners Charlie Justice and Pat Gerard were both at Monday's ceremony. Justice attributed the support that Habitat receives to people's belief in its mission and that "if you get up every day and work hard and you do the right thing, you have a chance to really succeed in America. You have the chance to make that generational change for your family," he said.
"But in Pinellas County, we believe in partnership," Justice said, mentioning the millions in Penny for Pinellas funds committed to workforce and affordable housing.
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Pinellas Park is in the process of annexing the property, a move that will benefit the city, by increasing its taxable income, and Habitat. Economic development manager Shannon Coughlin said the annexation area extends from 62nd Avenue to 64th Avenue and 67th Way to 68th Street.
The city has been trying to annex the area for many years, because it has been "in need of some redevelopment attention," Coughlin said. "It's very exciting to see this project move forward and for it to be affordable homes."
She said the area has smaller than normal lots. "The developers that brought it before us over the past several years found it challenging to develop due to substandard lots and to keep it economically feasible for them to move forward," she said.
"To assist Habitat as a partner, Pinellas Park is offering to accept the nonconforming lots," Coughlin said, and waive the first $150,000 in land development fees and application fees for building and zoning. "It's a couple of more houses that can be built," she said.
The City Council will vote on the annexation in July.
Habitat also got a boost from the corporate foundation of TEGNA, a national media company, which gave it a $30,000 grant. The money will be used for site preparation and infrastructure, Sutton said. The initial 51 homes, with infrastructure, will cost about $9 million.
Most Habitat homes are scattered in established communities, Sutton said, but an entire development generates "a lot of synergy" and "a sense of pride and accomplishment" that comes from being around others who have gone through the same process to acquire a Habitat home.
"Studies show that Habitat homes increase the value of surrounding properties, and in our neighborhoods, we have seen that property values increase significantly, about 30 to 40 percent," he said. "We expect the same thing there."
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.