Pinellas County to tackle affordable housing shortage

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — The red hot housing market shows no signs of slowing down and when combined with the population density in Pinellas County, it’s easy to see why so many people are having problems getting a home right now.

That conundrum has led Pinellas County, its 25 city governments, and Forward Pinellas to band together to tackle the critical shortage of affordable housing.

“The price of housing is really through the roof, and it just continues to rise,” Whit Blanton, Forward Pinellas’ Executive Director said.

Pamela Elsaadi of SI Real Estate Tampa Bay said in June 2020, the average price of a Tampa Bay home was $305,000. This year, it shot up to an average price of $376,000.

However, as the prices continue to rise, the overall availability of homes has declined. Elsaadi noted in June of 2020 there were 38,475 active listings. In May 2021, there were only 14,500.

“The numbers speak volumes for what is going on,” she said. “There’s an imbalance between supply and demand. Supply is really low, demand is incredibly high.”

Even when homeowners are lucky enough to secure a house, the majority of their income will likely go toward their mortgage or rent. Blanton said the average household in Pinellas County spends almost 60% of their income on housing and transportation. He says 45% is what’s considered “affordable.”

“That means we have a lot of people in this county who are rent-burdened or are mortgage burdened,” Blanton said. “And that just doesn’t allow them to save, it doesn’t allow them to invest it, doesn’t allow them to plan for their kids’ education. That’s a problem.”

With Pinellas County’s 25 city governments getting their own housing money and operating under their own affordable housing agencies, understanding how many affordable housing units are actually available right now is a huge challenge. Plus, Blanton said affordable housing developments only need to be affordable for a period of time — and once that’s over; the builder and owner can switch over to market-rate units.

“We don’t really have a handle on how many of those are going to be changing over the next five to 10 years,” Blanton said.

To resolve these issues, Pinellas County’s Board of Commissioners, its city governments and Forward Pinellas created the Advantage Pinellas Housing Compact, which first will create a database to organize how many units are available and what’s set to expire.

“What we know is we need to produce about 1,000 housing units that are affordable per year over the next decade just to catch up with the demand that’s out there today,” Blanton said.

He said the county is setting aside $23.4 million for these efforts. They’re also talking about creating regulatory reform that would place certain requirements on new developers such as a certain amount of parking spaces, landscaping or storm water drainage.

And if that’s not a requirement for every one of those parcels, then they can provide a certain amount of units that are affordable,” Blanton said.

As of April 2021, four affordable housing communities have been approved by the Board of County Commissioners and have begun development. This includes Skyway Lofts, The Shores, New Northeast and Washington Avenue Apartments.

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