Land adjacent to the former Apalachicola High School could eventually sprout 44 new apartments, designated as affordable housing, if a proposal now in the works before both the city and school board crosses a series of local, state and federal hurdles.
The plan to transform the corner of Avenue L and 17th street into an affordable housing complex is being championed by local real estate broker Leon Bloodworth, who hopes this week to secure purchase of the property from the city and school board, specifically to develop the apartments.
Bloodworth is spearheading the project on behalf of a Tallahassee developer who intends to buy the property for $350,000, and then take advantage of federal housing tax credits to finance the project.
At their Nov. 20 special meeting, the school board approved advertising for sale of the property for a minimum bid of $211,000, which Bloodworth had calculated represents the school district’s ownership of about 60 percent of the site.
The remaining 40 percent, which constitutes what were city-owned streets when Apalachicola deeded the property to the schools four decades ago, would amount to about $139,000, with that money going to city coffers if the sale goes through.
At the city’s Nov. 27 special meeting, Bloodworth outlined for commissioners the proposal, which he stressed was for affordable housing, rather than Section 8 or subsidized housing.
“It’s for working folks,” he said. “And it has to be affordable for 50 years.”
The project calls for four one-bedroom, and 40 two-bedroom units, built as quadriplexes, along with 80 parking spaces. The development would be professionally managed, he said, and would be built of concrete block, with a brick veneer and oyster tabby on top.
The proposed site would require relocation of the city’s dog park, but Bloodworth said there is plenty of space on the opposite side to accommodate the relocation.
At Tuesday’s city commission meeting, Bloodworth cautioned city commissioners that maximum income levels for tenants, as specified by the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, could rule out occupancy by teachers, police officers and other professionals.
In order to qualify for the federal tax credits, a developer must commit to keeping rents over 50 years in the range of 60 percent of the county’s median income per family, which is $48,800.
Depending on a family’s income, rents would range between $336 and $656 per month. A single individual who makes more than $20,520 per year would be ineligible, while two people could make no more than $25,460, three $26,400, and four $29,280.
“Any service worker probably will qualify,” said City Administrator Betty Taylor-Webb. “It moves them into something they will afford now.”
Bloodworth also cautioned city commissioners that even if the sale is approved by the city and the schools, the process for securing funding through the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit program is a highly competitive one.
Congress enacted the tax credit program in 1986 to provide the private market with an incentive to invest in affordable rental housing. The tax credits are awarded to developers of qualified projects, who can then sell these credits to investors to raise capital (or equity) for their projects. This reduces the debt the developer would otherwise have to borrow, enabling the property to offer lower, more affordable rents. Provided the property maintains compliance with the program requirements, investors receive a dollar-for-dollar credit against their federal tax liability each year over a period of 10 years.
Commissioner Brenda Ash said city residents should understand that the process will take time before such a project would be approved, constructed and ready for occupancy.
“We have a limited period of time trying to make it work,” Bloodworth said. “The funding is not available until the second quarter of 2013, but needs to be submitted by year’s end.” He said that the project could compete in future years if it is denied this time around.
“It’s a long shot,” said Taylor-Webb. “Very few small counties apply for this package of funding.”
The city commissioners went ahead and gave unanimous support Tuesday night for drawing up a contract for the sale of the property, provided the school board accepts the project’s bid at this evening’s school board meeting. When bids are opened, the board also is expected to review an appraisal completed by Matt Terry of Port St. Joe, as required by school district rules.
City Attorney Pat Floyd advised commissioners that they didn’t need to do their own appraisal. “If the school board is getting one, their property is so related and interwoven with ours, I would think it would be sufficient to do a multiplication (of the city’s portion),” he said. “I would think that would be a fair way of doing it. I don’t see paying an appraiser to do another one that’s separate for us.”