Pinellas County Commission gathers facts on affordable housing availability
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03/15/11 Kate Bradshaw
WMNF Drive-Time News Tuesday | Listen to this entire show:

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If you’re looking for cheap rent in Tampa Bay, chances are you’re not having in easy time finding it. Today the Pinellas Board of County Commissioners held a workshop today to find answers on how to deal with a lack of affordable housing in the county. Bill Sanchez with the Tampa Bay Community Development Corporation said foreclosures are down nationwide, but not because few homeowners are filing.

It seems that the drop is basically having to do with banks having to refile paperwork that was improperly done a couple of months ago. It is expected, obviously, that the foreclosures will continue to rise during the year as this paperwork gets through the courts."

Citing statistics from the Web site RealtyTrack.com, he said Pinellas County remains one of the hardest-hit counties in the foreclosure crisis.

"It showed that Florida was number two, behind California, in foreclosures. And it showed that Pinellas County was number six in the state with about 1003 foreclosures for the month of February, the way that RealtyTrack has this foreclosure number set up."

Patt Denihan is a program administrator with eHousing Plus, a company that manages state and local housing funding. She said the foreclosure crisis is making it harder for first time home buyers to find affordable homes.

"The tight lending standard. When I look at this I think in terms of, from a first time homebuyers perspective. The cash to close, the mortgage rates, and the credit scores, all of which have changed dramatically over the last couple of years. So the sins of the past now are faced...the people who are trying to buy homes now are faced with the penance for those who sinned."

The county’s Community Development Department defines affordable housing as rental units serving modest wage earners and disabled or elderly citizens. The terms also applies to homes for working families unable to afford down payments or closing costs. Denihan said determining affordability is simple.

"Frankly, to me, there is one number that's very important when we review what a person can afford. It's really simple. Do they have enough income to make their monthly payment? It isn't, we found in these programs that really isn't related to how much down payment assistance they get, but it is absolutely related to how much income they have."

The Commissioners heard about all aspects of the affordable housing crisis. Barbara Inman is CEO of Pinellas Habitat for Humanity.

"Right now our mortgages are running about $600 to $700 a month, and that includes our escroll payments. So that is what they pay and they are required to put down $500 for buying their home and attend 12 classes that prepare them for home ownership including some life skills classes like domestic violence, et cetera."

She said current housing market conditions are proving challenging for the nonprofit.

"The biggest challenges for us right now, that we're facing in acquiring rehabs for example, are some things that have already been mentioned. That investors are coming back into the market. It's harder for us to acquire them and to be able to put enough money into them to buy them at a reasonable enough price, that we can put money into them to rehab them and actually recover our investment because their homes are not appraising for what we've spent to acquire them and rehab them et cetera. So we have to drop out of that bidding process."

The Board of County Commissioners heard a similar presentation several years ago. Commission Chair Susan Latvala said little has changed, except that there are more people in need.

"The biggest challenge that we face is that there are just that many more needy people than there used to be. The needs haven't changed. We still have people that can't make down payments and get their first home. We have people that lose their homes. It's all the same, the numbers are just bigger."

Pinellas County Administrator Bob LaSala said the county’s got its work cut out.

"Identify where our programs and program elements are, put the eligibilities for these are and the potential application of them. The policy choices and program choices, the needs identification, and then the opportunities and challenges."

His colleagues added compiling an inventory for rental properties to the list. The Board didn’t take any action after the three-hour discussion, and the Commissioners said the issue of affordable housing would be tough to tackle in current economic climate.

The commission also voted to kill a countywide curbside recycling program.

Previous WMNF news coverage of affordable housing

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