Kathryn Driver, executive director of Housing Finance Authority of Pinellas County, talks to commissioners Feb. 27 about the need for affordable housing and programs dedicated to help increase inventory.
CLEARWATER – Many in Pinellas County struggle to find an affordable place to live. The availability of housing for minimum wage workers is not adequate to meet the needs.
Kathryn Driver, executive director of Housing Finance Authority of Pinellas County, talked about the problem at the Feb. 27 Pinellas County Commission meeting. She said in Pinellas, the Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,014. To afford rent and utilities on that apartment, a household must earn $3,380 a month to avoid paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
If a person worked a 40-hour workweek, 52 weeks a year, it would take an hourly wage of $19.50 to afford a Fair Market Rent two-bedroom apartment in this county. Minimum wage in Florida is $8.10. In other words, a household would need to have 2.4 full-time minimum wage jobs just to pay rent and utilities.
That’s a problem for single parents, seniors and even two-person households. It’s also a problem for anybody who lives paycheck to paycheck, who might not have paid sick leave or savings for an emergency.
The HFA of Pinellas County was created by state statute to alleviate the shortage of affordable housing. It is a dependent special district of the county. It has programs to help first-time homebuyers and to assist low- to moderate-income renters among others.
The county’s housing program includes the Community Housing Trust Fund and the Affordable Housing Land Assembly Fund. The HFA administers both through an interlocal agreement with the County Commission.
From 2006-2016, Housing Trust Fund money was allocated to HFA, Pinellas County, Clearwater, Largo and St. Petersburg. More than 2,000 units of affordable housing have been provided. The County Commission contributed more than $19.2 million to the fund. The program generated nearly $5.6 million. Outside sources contributed nearly $212.4 million.
The result was 219 units made available for special needs residents, 195 units for households who make 50 percent of Area Median Income, 751 units for households who make 60 percent of AMI, 95 units for those who make 80 percent AMI and 592 units for household who make 120 percent of AMI.
AMI in Pinellas County is $59,800 for a four-person household. Thirty percent AMI for a four-person household is $24,600, 50 percent is $29,900, 60 percent is $35,880, 80 percent is $47,850 and 120 percent AMI is $71,760 for a four-person household.
The AMI income is lower with fewer persons in a home. For example, for a one-person household, 30 percent AMI is only $12,600.
The Land Assembly Fund receives Penny for Pinellas money, which can be used only for acquisition. The land purchased is held in separate land trusts and affordability of housing units constructed by others on that land is ensured for 99 years with the right to renew for another 99 years.
Through this program, 360 new affordable housing units will become available and another 160 units will be preserved. The majority, 80 percent, is for households at 60 percent AMI or lower. Driver reviewed the inventory of properties in the program, including those that have been completed, those still under construction and those still in the closing process.
FAST wants assurances
More money for affordable housing will come from Penny for Pinellas during the years 2020-2030. Of the $2 billion in revenue estimated to be collected during the 10 years, 8.3 percent is dedicated to economic development and affordable housing.
Faith and Action for Strength Together, commonly referred to as FAST, a local organization comprised of 40 church congregations, continues to ask commissioners to commit 4.15 percent of that money to affordable housing.
Six of the seven commissioners have verbally committed to spending 4.15 percent; however, FAST wants it in writing. Several members showed up at the Feb. 27 meeting to speak on the issue.
“Right now, the written plan says that 8.3 percent will be spent on affordable housing and economic development,” said the Rev. Robert Ward of Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in St. Petersburg. “We know when push comes to show, the needs of the poor never win out over businesses. That’s why we want the commission to pass an ordinance that would make sure at least 4.15 percent gets spent on affordable housing.”
Commissioners say that understand the concerns of FAST members, but pointed out that even if an ordinance was passed, it could be changed in the future. The recommendation was to make sure elected leaders in the future have a commitment to affordable housing.
Habitat for Humanity
A major partner in the county’s crusade to create more affordable housing is Habitat for Humanity. Last year, the organization built 59 new homes and served 18 families through its Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, according to Mike Sutton, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County.
To date, 1,300 Habitat homes have been built in Pinellas, making the local organization the second largest in nation based on new construction. The largest is in Collier County, Sutton said.
The County Commission donated some of the land where the new homes were built, including several parcels in the Danville area of Largo. On Feb. 27, commissioners unanimously approved giving Habitat nine parcels in the Greater Ridgecrest area also near Largo to construct additional affordable housing.
Sutton said it was a misconception that Habitat “gave away houses.” He said the homeowners do work in exchange for their new houses. In addition, they pay taxes with more than $496,000 paid collectively by Habitat homeowners in 2017.
Sutton thanked commissioners for their help.
“We’re so blessed to have support throughout the county,” he said.
Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.