Highlands Today Article – 44 Apartments to be built

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Gary Pinnell | Highlands Today 
Published: August 20, 2015   |   Updated: August 20, 2015 at 08:32 AM 

 — Construction is due to commence by Oct. 1 on 44 single family homes. Highlands County commissioners approved the $7.8 million project in a Tuesday night meeting.

Cornell Colony will be located south of downtown Avon Park.

“They will all be three-bedroom, two-bath, single-family homes,” said Larry Shoeman, executive director of Avon Park Housing Authority. “With a playground, community center and an after-school program.”

The county needs rental units, Shoeman said. “We haven’t funded a rental project in quite some time. We’ve been funding rehab.”

A mortgage will be provided through Florida Housing Finance Corp. in Tallahassee. Highlands County will contribute $321,000 through the State Housing Initiatives Partnership.

“This $321,000 comes from doc stamps,” said Commissioner Jim Brooks.

“When a deed or mortgage is recorded in official records,” Clerk of Courts Bob Germaine said, the owner “must pay the doc stamps assessed by the state. These funds are sent to the state, to be disbursed in various accounts.

Some document stamp money has to be used for affordable housing or a housing initiative, Brooks said. “And we’re not spending everything we get.”

Besides, Brooks said, when 44 homes are constructed, streets must be built, water and sewer pipes laid, concrete and lumber and plumbing purchased. “I don’t have a problem with it.”

“I’m glad you brought that up,” Commissioner Jack Richie said. After an Avon Park landlord spoke about his difficulty in renting units for enough return on his investment, Richie said he had a problem with the project because it competes with private industry.

“Now you have to compete with a clubhouse as well,” Elwell said. And landlords will have to compete with brand-new units.

Community Programs Director Christopher Benson said landlords can apply for funds to keep their units affordable. “We will set it up to provide them with the same opportunity.”

However, Richie added that local people will be employed to build the units. “We certainly need that (construction) industry built back up. That’s a lot of units. That will move a lot of money around in this community and we have to think of that.”

“What is the county liability?” Commissioner Don Elwell asked. “Are there any circumstances in which we would be liable?”

“From a lender’s standpoint, there isn’t additional liability,” County Attorney Ross Macbeth said.

The houses will rent for $450 to $600 per month,” Shoemaker said. “Two fast-food workers in the household could barely make it.”

“There’s a great deal of government money in it,” Elwell said. He did the math: each unit will cost about $177,000.

“I’m not against affordable housing,” Elwell said. “I just don’t think this is the best use of SHIP dollars. As a steward of those taxpayer dollars, I don’t think I can say yes to this particular project.”

“This exactly where the money ought to be spent,” Commissioner Greg Harris said, “In a public-private partnership. We’re putting people back to work as well. I’ll be voting for it.”

Elwell voted against the project, which passed 3-1, with Commissioner Ron Handley abstaining because of a conflict of interest.

– See more at: Highlands Today

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