After several delays promoted by the COVID 19 pandemic, Carrabelle city commissioners have moved to set a deadline for completion of a 30-unit affordable housing development on the site of the former Carrabelle High School.
By unanimous consent, the commissioners on Oct. 6 set a deadline of Feb. 28, 2023 for closing on the sale of the property to McDowell Housing Partners, with construction to begin within a year of demolition.
Ahmed Martin, McDowell’s senior development manager who appeared at the meeting via telephone from Miami, said he expects the project to be available for rental sometime in 2025.
Called New River Landing when McDowell proposed the project in 2020, Martin said the name is likely to change.
Because the project requires demolition of the former high school, the city agreed to reduce the price in exchange for McDowell completing that work.
But at last week’s meeting, it became clear the city wanted McDowell to move on the project, and stipulated that approval would be the last of five extensions the city has granted McDowell over the last two years.
The proposed development will be composed of 30 two-bedroom rental units, nine of which will have no income ceilings for prospective tenants.
The remaining 21 will each have income ceilings, based on the county’s household area median income (AMI) which now stands at about $49,000. Eleven of the units will be for households that make no more than 60 percent of AMI, or about $29,400 annually, while three will be for seven units for households making no more than 40 percent of AMI, or about $19,600 annually, and three will be for households that bring in 22 percent of AMI, or about $10,780.
Martin said nine of the 30 units will be targeted for individuals with special needs, as they are either physically or mentally disabled.
McDowell secured funding for the project through the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, which earmarked dollars to areas hit by Hurricane Michael.
McDowell, which developed the Jordan Bayou complex, came under fire at last week’s meeting from residents of that affordable housing complex. To finance that project, McDowell secured a $5 million federal HOME Investment Partnership Loan to provide construction and permanent financing of 50 two-bedroom, two-bath single-family homes at Jordan Bayou, 39 of which have maximum income ceilings.
Resident Jessica Lewis has spoken out at recent commission meetings about problems she has seen at Jordan Bayou, alleging everything from shoddy workmanship to lax management to questionable implementation of the low-income threshold ceilings.
Lewis held up a photo of a dryer vent and argued that it made the unit full of dust and was a fire hazard. “This is a code issue. You need to reconsider the McDowell contract,” she said. “I really need the city to back us up.”
City Attorney Dan Hartman reiterated the city’s position on Jordan Bayou which is that with the exception of possible code violations, the city cannot get involved with disputes with the developer or the Florida Housing Corporation.
“Relationships with tenants is not our business,” he said. “We cannot interfere with other people’s contracts.”
City Clerk Keisha Messer noted the construction company, Marmer Construction, Inc. out of Sebring, had not used the city’s building inspector, but relied on an outside inspection service to attest to the workmanship.
Jordan Bayou is currently managed by Grail Management Group, LLC out of Casselberry.
“I’m new to the company; I was not involved in the Jordan Bayou project at all,” Martin said. “Grail is underperforming, and we’ll look into what can be done with replacing it.”
He said the New River Landing will be managed by Weller Management out of St. Petersburg, which he called “a different management company entirely.
“Weller would be responsible for the grounds and all of its entirety,” Martin said.
“I think you can understand the red flags I see coming up, the concerns we have,” said Commissioner Tony Millender. “We entered into a partnership with you guys to help the citizens of Carrabelle for adequate and nice housing. The city of Carrabelle has an investment into what you’re looking to do.
“We’re willing to do that and still provide fair and clean and nice housing for residents,” he said. “We’ve voiced our concerns (and) why we have questions and red flags arising.”
Mayor Brenda La Paz said she shared those same concerns.
“I’m concerned with the health and safety of the residents of Carrabelle, “ she said, noting that the many complaints coming from Jordan Bayou residents are in contrast with the city’s other affordable housing developments.
“I have never received a complaint from the two other subsidized housing developments,” La Paz said. “I’m sure they have issues but not so severe they have to bring them to the city commission.
“We’re very concerned about moving forward,” she said. “We have an investment of two years of time (and) the residents of Carrabelle are paying our attorney. We reduced the price of the property because it does have to have a big demolition.
“We want to get affordable housing, for teachers, law enforcement officers, and medical personnel, but they can’t live in properties that are falling apart,” La Paz said.
“I understand and hear your concerns 100 percent,” said Martin. “We are going with the city inspection service, and we are not hiring a third party inspector.”