Via St. Pete Catalyst

What was once a deplorable mobile home park just outside St. Petersburg city limits will now house an affordable housing community for residents with special needs.

Pinellas County officials discussed the former Wood Acres mobile home park’s ongoing saga Tuesday. While old asbestos-filled trailers no longer occupy the 1.55-acre property at 3901 46th Avenue North in unincorporated Lealman, redevelopment plans have repeatedly stalled.

Pinellas Affordable Living (PAL), a nonprofit operating under the Boley Centers’ umbrella, will now assume control of the triangular-shaped parcel. Commissioner Charlie Justice stressed the importance of having a proven developer oversee the project despite concerns over the cost and process preceding Tuesday’s vote.

“That mobile home park, to call it a ‘home’ in any way or shape, is ridiculous,” Justice said. “That was a slum. It was just absolutely disgusting that someone would allow another human to live in those conditions … and then charge them for it.

“This may not be the exact project that everyone wanted way back then, but I’m very glad we’re moving forward on that site today.”

The property in one of Pinellas County’s poorest communities was once a haven for code violations, drugs and crime. Bruce Bussey, community development manager, explained that Contemporary Housing Alternatives of Florida (CHAF) acquired the site for $300,000 in 2019.

The local nonprofit has developed several affordable housing projects throughout the area. County officials used Penny IV Pinellas tax dollars to purchase the parcel for $737,000.

The county then leased the property back to CHAF, which more than doubled its investment. The organization planned to install 34 manufactured homes with affordable rents.

Bussey said that after two years of stormwater and site planning issues, county officials deemed the project “unfeasible” and terminated the agreement with CHAF. “I think we can all agree that this delay and the shortcomings by Pinellas County staff led to a fairly significant black eye on the community,” said Jeremy Heath, chair of the Lealman Citizen Advisory Committee.

“I do approve of this transaction; I do approve of this development,” Heath added. “However, it’s worth mentioning that we’re only here due to some of those missteps.”

Commissioners unanimously approved designating the property as surplus and giving it to PAL. County administrators selected the nonprofit’s proposal from just two submissions.

The Boley Centers, which established PAL, have received widespread praise from local leaders. The organization serves and houses people with disabilities, the homeless and domestic violence victims.

PAL plans to convert the site into The Point Apartments. The $5.87 million project will feature 17 units for special needs households earning less than 60% of the area median income.

Bussey said PAL expects to receive $5 million in state financing. Commissioner Dave Eggers noted the $345,000 cost per unit does not include an expected $1 million county gap financing request.

Eggers said that would likely raise the price per apartment to $450,000. He questioned if a developer could increase the total units to lower costs.

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