City Donation Boosts Talbot Affordable Housing Program

talbot house logoA Talbot House Ministries affordable-housing program will get a big donation from the city: a dilapidated apartment building appraised at $160,000 and $50,000 toward repairs, the City Commission decided Monday.

The nonprofit ministry has already raised $350,000 toward the estimated $700,000 it will need to rehabilitate the complex of 16 studio apartments and is in the process of applying for a forgivable loan through the Federal Home Loan Bank. If Talbot House does not receive the loan by the end of November, the property will revert to the city.

Commissioners had two proposals to consider for the apartment complex at 910 and 920 N. Vermont Ave. and an adjoining lot that the city foreclosed on after the property had accumulated massive code violation fines.

Talbot House’s plans include charging $250 to $600 a month rent to workers earning $9 to $11 an hour, people on disability and low-income veterans and providing case management, free medical care and employment services.

The other proposal came from Premier Housing Investments, a company that has rehabilitated other dilapidated housing in the neighborhood. Premier offered to buy the complex for $240,000 and rehab it for rental to veterans receiving federal housing vouchers. The vouchers help the renters pay the difference between what they can afford and fair-market rent.

Several commissioners said that while Premier’s plan would return the property to the tax rolls, Talbot House’s proposal meets the city’s goal of easing the crunch for affordable workforce housing. And it does it by by working with a nonprofit partner.

Commissioners complimented Premier CEO Chad Pettinato for the work his company has done in helping clean up blighted multi-family housing along and near Memorial Boulevard, saying they hoped he would continue to work with the city.

J.D. Shahin, a Talbot House board member who is a 100 percent combat disabled veteran, urged commissioners to donate the complex to Talbot House.

“The difference between a civilian and a veteran is a veteran actually has more access to benefits through the VA,” Shahin said. “This country takes care of our veterans.”

Low-income civilians do not have access to free healthcare and do not have the same easy access to housing vouchers that are available to veterans, he said.

“If you vote with us (Talbot House), you are going to be broadening the scope of people you can help,” Shahin said.

Brenda Reddout, Talbot House executive director, said her staff is working on a tight deadline to obtain a forgivable loan through the Federal Home Loan Bank. The first part of the application is due by June 30. A loan decision would come in November, she said.

If at the end of 20 years, Talbot House has continued to meet terms of the loan, offering truly affordable rent and other services to low-income residents, the loan will be forgiven, she said.

Video highlights compiled by Michael Maguire:

Commission from Michael Maguire on Vimeo.

Pettinato said that his company has been in Lakeland for a dozen years, has 153 properties in Lakeland and is currently housing about 40 veterans through vouchers.

“I have acquired from the CRA the 24-unit adjoining Royal Oak Apartments in 2014,” he said, and later acquired three adjoining apartment buildings.

“They had all been boarded up. We cleaned them up. We tried really hard, working with the police department, putting up surveillance systems and really screening our tenants well,” Pettinato said

Commissioner Phillip Walker told Pettinato, “I appreciate what you did. It was terrible four or five years ago; it is much better now.”

But, Walker said, the Talbot House proposal better fits the scope of what the city and the CRA has been trying to do in providing workforce housing, available not just to veterans but to folks who have jobs but need a place to stay that is affordable to them.

Reddout said that Talbot House will designate four units for disabled residents, two units for veterans and 10 units for workers with low incomes.

The vote was 5-1 to enter into the agreement with Talbot House with Commissioner Bill Read voting no. Read said he was not against the Talbot House proposal nor Premier’s proposal but was concerned about transparency. The city should issue a request for proposal on the property, he said.

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