Hous­ing Au­thor­ity has $21M mis­take

Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page - BY CHRISTO­PHER O’DON­NELL Times Staff Writer

Er­rors in an ap­pli­ca­tion by the Tampa Hous­ing Au­thor­ity mean that the agency is los­ing a 10-year tax credit that was sup­posed to go to­ward much-needed af­ford­able hous­ing in the city’s West River re­vi­tal­iza­tion project. The cred­its from the Florida Hous­ing Corp. were awarded to a dif­fer­ent project.

The Tampa Hous­ing Au­thor­ity loses a $21 mil­lion tax credit, awarded else­where.

TAMPA — Er­rors in an ap­pli­ca­tion have cost the Tampa Hous­ing Au­thor­ity a 10-year, $21 mil­lion tax credit that was ear­marked to help build much­needed af­ford­able hous­ing in Tampa’s am­bi­tious West River re­vi­tal­iza­tion project.

The cred­its were awarded in May to the Boule­vard at West River, an apart­ment block that would in­clude 200 af­ford­able hous­ing units.

But the Florida Hous­ing Fi­nance Corp. last week re­versed its de­ci­sion af­ter an ad­min­is­tra­tive judge ruled that mis­takes in the Hous­ing Au­thor­ity’s ap­pli­ca­tion should dis­qual­ify it from the award.

In­stead, the tax cred­its will now go to Blue Sky Com­mu­ni­ties, a pri­vate de­vel­oper that chal­lenged the award in court. Its ap­pli­ca­tion to build a 144-unit work­force hous­ing project in un­in­cor­po­rated Hillsborough County earned the same score as the Hous­ing Au­thor­ity’s but lost out through a lot­tery.

The set­back will mean at least a year’s de­lay for the Boule­vard project, said Leroy Moore, Hous­ing Au­thor­ity chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer.

The city’s project is just west of down­town Tampa, at Main Street

and Wil­low Av­enue. The county’s Wil­liams Road project is north of Broad­way Av­enue and east of In­ter­state 75.

The Hous­ing Au­thor­ity’s ap­pli­ca­tion fell short in two ar­eas, ac­cord­ing to the judge who re­viewed Blue Sky’s chal­lenge.

It failed to list all of the de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cers of its de­vel­op­ment part­ner, Banc of Amer­ica Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment Corp. It also over­stated the level of af­ford­able hous­ing de­vel­op­ment ex­pe­ri­ence of the bank’s de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer, Eileen Pope.

Moore said the ap­pli­ca­tion was han­dled by Af­ford­able Hous­ing Con­sult­ing, a real es­tate de­vel­op­ment com­pany based in Tallahassee. Of­fi­cials from the com­pany did not re­turn calls seek­ing com­ment.

The firm re­ceives per­for­mance bonuses based on awards re­ceived.

It used the same in­for­ma­tion that had been used on other suc­cess­ful ap­pli­ca­tions, Moore said. He de­scribed Florida Hous­ing’s de­ci­sion as bad pol­icy, not­ing that it would pro­duce 144 new hous­ing units in­stead of 200.

“Those were mi­nor ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties,” he said. “They have had sim­i­lar omis­sions be­fore.”

But the ad­min­is­tra­tive judge ruled that the er­rors were not “mi­nor ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties that can be waived.”

The ap­pli­ca­tion listed three de­vel­op­ments on which it stated Pope served as prin­ci­pal. That in­cluded a 1998 project in Char­lotte, N.C. But at that time, Pope was only a re­gional prop­erty man­ager for the Char­lotte Hous­ing Au­thor­ity, a po­si­tion that did not meet the stan­dard to be judged as a prin­ci­pal.

Moore said there is no ques­tion that Pope, who has worked with the Hous­ing Au­thor­ity on its En­core project, has the nec­es­sary ex­pe­ri­ence. Fu­ture ap­pli­ca­tions will be cor­rected, he said.

“It should have been tighter, and it will be go­ing for­ward,” he said.

The first cor­rected ap­pli­ca­tion may be an­other re­quest for tax cred­its for the Boule­vard. The Florida Hous­ing Fi­nance Corp. awards cred­its ev­ery year for de­vel­op­ers and agen­cies in Florida’s largest com­mu­ni­ties as an in­cen­tive to build af­ford­able hous­ing. The cred­its can be sold to raise money for con­struc­tion costs.

The dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion has ex­ac­er­bated strained re­la­tions be­tween the city and the county af­ter the state last year de­cided to give lo­cal gov­ern­ments more say over which projects re­ceive tax cred­its.

The the­ory be­hind the change was that lo­cal gov­ern­ments could bet­ter de­cide which ar­eas had the great­est need for low-cost hous­ing.

But that didn’t work well in Hillsborough, where the city and the county rec­om­mended dif­fer­ent projects.

County of­fi­cials ini­tially told city of Tampa of­fi­cials they would sup­port the Hous­ing Au­thor­ity’s project with the un­der­stand­ing that the Blue Sky project, which would be built just north of Broad­way Av­enue, would get the rec­om­men­da­tion the next year.

But in De­cem­ber, then As­sis­tant County Ad­min­is­tra­tor Eric John­son told com­mis­sion­ers to ig­nore the rec­om­men­da­tion in front of them and to make the Pre­serve at Sa­bal Park the county’s rec­om­men­da­tion.

“They re­neged on the deal, and this is what hap­pens,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buck­horn. “It’s just a con­tin­u­a­tion of some of the on­go­ing is­sues and chal­lenges we have with them.”

In ad­di­tion to pro­vid­ing fewer af­ford­able hous­ing units, Moore said that the county’s project will not pro­vide as much ben­e­fit to low-in­come fam­i­lies as the West River project.

“It’s away from jobs, away from cul­tural ameni­ties and trans­porta­tion al­ter­na­tives,” he said.

But that is dis­puted by Blue Sky of­fi­cials.

The site is close to the Sa­bal Park busi­ness area where there are large em­ploy­ers in­clud­ing Citi, said CEO and pres­i­dent Shawn Wil­son.

And it is served by a HART bus stop, he added.

The project is ex­pected to break ground in the sum­mer of 2018 and be­gin ac­cept­ing res­i­dents in 2019.

The apart­ment will be in­come re­stricted. Rent for 29 apart­ments will be be­tween $384 to $518 a month for very low­in­come fam­i­lies. The re­main­ing 115 units will cost be­tween $608 to $829 a month.

Wil­son said the de­ci­sion to chal­lenge the Hous­ing Au­thor­ity’s award was made by his com­pany with no in­volve­ment from the county.

“For an ap­pli­ca­tion to fail to dis­close all the prin­ci­pals re­ally puts in jeop­ardy the in­tegrity of the Florida Hous­ing Fi­nance Corp. rules and reg­u­la­tions,” he said.

Moore

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