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Affordable Housing Has Multiple Appeals
By Melody Jameson melody@observernews.net
Aug 16, 2007, 23:51

Melody Jameson Photo
RUSKIN
– Affordable housing here is growing… up, out and beyond old limitations.

Or, in the words of Earl Pfeiffer, executive director of  the non-profit corporation that helps families acquire a home by participating in its construction, the concept is “evolving.”

Homes are increasingly attractive, maintenance of their communities is more sophisticated, amenities are more often featured, values are more substantial, he says.  Yet, the financial investment supplemented with “sweat equity” remains manageable for many probably shut out of other home buying options. 

As proof, Pfeiffer points to Bayou Pass, the multi-phase, enclosed affordable housing community straddling 14th Avenue between 21st and 24th Streets.  Its first two phases are nearing build-out, a third is in the works.

What’s more, the Ruskin community whose name was inspired by the river shoreline conservation area called Camp Bayou and the passage to it, is but the beginning of the affordable housing evolution, he suggests. 

Pfeiffer, an experienced builder and real estate sales agent who cut his lower income housing teeth with the City of Tampa’s programs in the 1990s, now heads Florida Home Partnership, Inc.  The non-profit corporation is dedicated to assisting first-time homebuyers into home ownership when the criteria demanded by for-profit lenders cannot be met. It’s the second largest such operation in a federal self-help program in the eastern U.S.   The largest, he adds, is in the Orlando area. 

Just as the affordable housing practice has evolved, so has the not-for-profit company at its center, Pfeiffer explains.  Florida Home Partnership, governed by a 12-person board of directors, grew out of what originally was called Homes for Hillsborough, an entity founded 10 years ago by the late Dorothy Duke, a housing advocate in the north who couldn’t simply retire to Sun City Center. 
 
Over that decade, a total of 325 homes in several different South County areas have been financed, built and occupied through the cooperative efforts of their owners and the non-profit corporation, Pfeiffer notes.   Contrary to naysayers who forecast a large number of such homes would become empty resales leading to deteriorating neighborhoods, only 29 of the 325 total have been sold in 10 years.  “People,” he asserts, “really want a home of their own to take pride in.”

The first project undertaken by the assisting corporation was the Homes for Ruskin community located north of S.R. 674 and east of 12th Street, a no frills development of single family houses.  The most recent is  Bayou Pass, complete with a Key West style community center, a pond centered with a fountain and its own homeowners association.   In between have come such projects as  Summerview Oaks on the west side of U.S. 301, just north of Big Bend Road, and 10 homes built on infill lots in one of the Summerfield Crossings neighborhoods.  “We’re now building 70 houses a year; 10 years ago we built seven or eight in a year,” Pfeiffer says.

Several factors combine to create the functional Florida Home Partnership affordable housing program, Pfeiffer states.   One involves financial assistance for the buyer, with Hillsborough County providing “pass through,” no interest loans for buyer downpayments as well as a 40-year-old “self help” mortgage loan program offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  

Another factor keeping the partnership program at the affordable level, Pfeiffer asserts, is that the contractors’ fees are not “marked up.” Contractors doing the tradesman work bid for the jobs and partnership families, in effect, pay “wholesale prices,” he adds.

Then, of course, there’s the work actually performed by the owner families themselves, which is not paid for but eventually is compensated with equity in the properties for the owners.

The process begins with application by the interested, first-time buying family.   Loan specialists look for a client who has not owned a home in the last three years and whose income is under 80 percent of the U.S. median, he says.  For a family of four, that would be no more than a combined family income of $43,500 annually.  

Once determined to be eligible, the mortgage application goes to USDA for funding.  The approvals are bundled into a group of 10 with the closing handled as a group at the title company and the construction process begun in a group, after each family has chosen its preferred lot.

 The entire process may transpire over a period of a year or more, and the building process alone consumes seven or eight months, Pfeiffer says.  The natural result is that the multiple families sharing the experience simultaneously often become close friends, helping one another by sharing their skills during construction. 

Unlike affordable housing developments of the past, Bayou Pass in southeast Ruskin features amenities much like its upscale neighbors. The community center on the south side of still-growing Bayou Pass has a distinctly Key West flavor befitting its tropical environment. The development of single family homes offers first-time home buyers willing to invest their own sweat equity but unable to meet for-profit lender requirements a choice of floor plans, color schemes and front elevations, but with considerably lower mortgages. Melody Jameson Photo
While such building aspects as the foundation, plumbing, electrical, block masonry, air conditioning, carpentry and cabinetry all are handled by licensed contractors who have bid for the work, there are 64 tasks from excavation and prep work to painting and finishing touches that owners themselves do, Pfeiffer notes.   “It’s a great way to build a neighborhood,” he adds.

Ultimately, a family may not only move into a home of its own but also acquire considerable equity in the property at the same time.   In Bayou Pass, for example, where the single family dwellings range from three-bedrooms in 1,160 square feet to a four bedroom in 1,584 square feet, the new home owner may have a $125,000 mortgage on a property with a $200,000 valuation, having contributed sweat equity in the end valued in the $75,000 range.  The monthly mortgage payment well may be under $500, Pfeiffer indicates.

Looking ahead, Pfeiffer sees more housing construction in the near future for the partnership.  The third phase of Bayou Pass, 160 single family homes on about 37 acres in the northwest corner of the 14th Avenue-2lst Street intersection, is projected to get underway in 2009.  

Then, there is the new single family Wimauma development to be brought in. Dubbed Hidden Creek, it is set for acreage immediately east of Valencia Lakes.  And, the partnership proposes to expand its affordable housing efforts into adjoining counties, probably beginning in Pasco, Pfeiffer says. 

There’s an “excitement” and “passion” that characterizes the entire affordable housing operation, the executive director says, “and it’s infectious.”   The partnership staff now numbers 16, he adds, and “eight of them came here first as clients.”  Enthusiastic families often want to share with others what they have found for themselves, he notes. 

Helping families find their version of “the American dream” with a home of their own pays multiple dividends, Pfeiffer concludes.  For benefiting families, it prompts feelings of accomplishment leading to greater stability which, in turn, underpins better citizenship, he says.   And that, he sums up, benefits government with an expanded tax base and a more constructive society.

The partnership website address is www.flhome.org. Additional information also can be obtained by calling 813-672-7889. 


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