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Public-private partnership addresses affordable housing crisis in Tampa

The city of Tampa provided a developer with $12 million to build a 354-apartment community and ensured it remains available to low-income residents for the next 99 years.

  • By Louis Llovio
  • | 5:00 a.m. March 6, 2024
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
A 354-unit affordable housing apartment complex is being built on the site of the former Fun-Lan Drive-in.
A 354-unit affordable housing apartment complex is being built on the site of the former Fun-Lan Drive-in.
Image via City of Tampa / Facebook
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For more than 70 years, the piece of land at 2302 E. Hillsborough Ave. in Tampa was a place where people went to relax.

Starting in 1950, they came out for movies at a sprawling drive in theater that held up to 700 cars. Then, in the early 1980s, they began coming out to a flea market that set up shop during daylight hours before the screens came to life.

It was called the Fun-Lan Drive-in. And, until 2021, it was a major attraction along Hillsborough Avenue, across from a technical college, a state government building and along a strip populated by used car lots, fast food joints, pawn shops and strip malls.

Things have changed. Today the property is the site a major construction project, where a 354-unit affordable housing apartment complex is being built.

The project is part of a public/private partnership between the city of Tampa and the developer, The Richman Group of Florida, with the city providing $12 million to build the complex.

(Neither the company nor the city would share the total cost of the project.) 

In a prepared statement at the groundbreaking, Richman Group President Todd Fabbri said the company’s hope is to create a “foundation for individuals and families to thrive and flourish.”

“The city of Tampa is helping make that happen.”

The Richman Group of Florida Inc. is building the 519,240-square-foot development in Tampa.
Image via City of Tampa / Facebook

As part of the agreement between the developer and the city, when complete about 40% of the units will be set aside for families with incomes between 50%-80% of the area median income, and 60% will be available to families at or below 120% AMI.

And the developer has agreed to keep the complex 100% affordable for 99 years.

“That's the first time in the city's history that we've contributed to an affordable complex in this manner,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor says in an interview with the Business Observer

That sentiment comes even though the partnership, she says, began as a competition. The city initially wanted to buy and develop the property itself. But Richman won out in the bidding. (According to Hillsborough County property records Richman paid $11.34 million for the property in 2022.)

This, it turns out, may have been for the best.

“There's nothing easy about affordable housing,” Castor says. “There's really nothing simple about development itself, but especially when you're looking at making it affordable because it takes so much collaboration in the funding streams.”

The need

The complex is a one step toward filling an ever-growing need for affordable, attainable and workforce housing in the city.

This need — which localities all along the Gulf Coast struggle with — has been growing since the pandemic, when population growth began to drive up housing prices across the city.

To help address the need, Tampa has been working to help bridge the gap by providing plots of city-owned land to developers in exchange for pricing guarantees; providing down payment assistance to qualifying residents; and helping find ways to move affordable housing projects forward.

The city has put $50 million in the general fund a year to address the issue, says Castor.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor with Kia Raymond, who became a homeowner through the city's Infill Housing Program.
Courtesy image

But the problem is not just housing for low-income residents.

According to a report presented to Tampa City Council on Feb. 29, for a household to afford a median-priced home in the city right now they need to earn $150,000 a year. The report also showed the average Tampa resident is currently paying 53% of their income toward housing and transportation costs.

To make living in Tampa affordable, Castor says, the city needs to make sure there is a sufficient housing supply including mid- and upper-income housing. “We have to provide housing at all levels.

“But,” she adds, “the most critical need is affordable.”

Some solutions

The Fun-Lan project isn’t the only local development looking to address that need.

A week before the ceremonial groundbreaking on Hillsborough Avenue, the Tampa Housing Authority began work on two new towers in the Canopy at West River development in West Tampa. 

West River is a mixed-income community under construction on the 150-acre site of the former North Boulevard Homes, the city’s first public housing project.

The two new buildings will add a total of 188 units. Tower three, at 1103 W. Main St., will be five stories and have 158 one-, two- and three-bedroom units. And tower four, at 1102 W. Chestnut St., will have 30 three- and four-bedroom bedroom units for larger families.

Both buildings, according to the housing authority, will have units ranging from 20% to 80% AMI.

With both projects, and others, underway, the city’s development and economic opportunity administrator Nicole Travis says there’s been a lot of progress made toward addressing what the city itself calls “the affordable housing crisis.”

She says a large amount of work has been done to understand how to tackle the problem and to figure out the target areas it needs to work on.

The Fun-Lan project, says Travis, is an example of the kind of creative thinking that’s come from that process.

She says the $12 million came from American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 funds that went to the city and that the city turned around and gave to Richman as gap financing. This money, then, allowed the city to set the parameters to ensure the project remained fully affordable for nearly a century.

“This particular project is unique, because we have a longer affordability timeline on the development,” says Travis. “Usually it's like 30 years, but now we have a 99-year agreement. For the overall long-term affordability, this is this is one of a kind.”



Louis Llovio

Louis Llovio is the commercial real estate editor at the Business Observer. Before going to work at the Observer, the longtime business writer worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Maryland Daily Record and for the Baltimore Sun Media Group. He lives in Tampa.

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