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By Robert Connors
Managing Editor 

Days Are Numbered for Grove Manor Public Housing Project as Federal Tax Credits Granted

Completely New Neighborhood to Rise on Site of Obsolete Apartments

 

Last updated 1/3/2024 at 12:07pm

Robert Connors

The eventual demolition and replacement of the obsolete Grove Manor public housing project is all but assured with the awarding of the first tranche of federal income tax credits that will fund the new construction.

Hopes for the compete removal and replacement of the aging Grove Manor public housing complex in Lake Wales took a major step toward reality with the recent awarding of federal income tax credits worth over $21 million that will fund the project.

The announcement from City manager James Slaton brought joy to city commissioners and residents attending the weekly city commission meeting. Commissioners had agreed more than a year ago to contribute a million dollars from the city's American Recovery Act funds toward the project. The city has until 2026 to use all the $7 million awarded under the federal grant.

The sprawl of 120 units in one-story buildings scattered on a 24.74 acre parcel will eventually be completely removed and replaced with 300 units in modern, privately-owned two and three-story buildings, part of the city's Connected plans. The project had been passed over for funding in a state-run process three years in a row, frustrating both the city and the Lake Wales Housing Authority.

Rick Crogan of project developers Smith & Henzy Affordable Group explained the confusing process that funds some projects funded in the pool of mid-sized counties. Five different criteria are weighed, and applicants are also subjected to a random "lottery ball" process to determine who gets the millions of dollars at stake.

"I'm ecstatic. It's been a pleasure working with the City of Lake Wales and Victor Dover," said Albert Kirkland Jr, executive director of the housing group. Dover, of the planning firm of Dover, Kohl & Partners, led the Lake Wales Connected effort that identified the replacement of Grove Manor as a major priority.

The Lake Wales Community Redevelopment Agency is funding the $20 million Connected effort, which includes reconstructing numerous streets, sidewalks, and other infrastructure while planting hundreds of street trees to create an inviting setting attractive to investment.

"This is the linchpin" of those plans, Crogan said, giving credit to DK&P. The million-dollar contribution from the city, plus the associated long-term Connected plan, strengthened the application, Crogan said.

The federal tax credits, worth $2,142,000 annually for 20 years, are awarded to the public-private partnership and then sold to a certificate buyer at a discount, generating the funds for the project. At an expected discount of ten percent, the credits will yield $19,276,000, enough to begin the initial part of the four-phase project, Grogan said.

Former City Commissioner and Housing Authority board member Terrye Howell was excited when contacted by LakeWalesNews.net for comment. "We need more housing, so I'm really glad to see this moving forward," she said, a viewpoint echoed by current LWHA director Narvell Peterson.

Deputy Mayor Robin Gibson was especially pleased by the prospects of redevelopment, noting that the private ownership would then be contributing to the tax base and Community Redevelopment Agency.

"It's big news," Gibson told LakeWalesNews.net, saying the new development "will fit in with the rest of the town." "We developed a really good relationship with the Housing Authority, a really good group of folks."

Gibson pointed out the long history of the tract of land that was once a citrus grove dividing the Black and White neighborhoods of the city during the days of segregation. "Now, instead of a separator, it will become a connector," Gibson said, referring to the Connected plan designed to invigorate the city's central and commercial neighborhoods.

"I'm eager to get this underway, let's rock and roll," Crogan added.

Courtesy Smith & Henzy Affordable, LLC

The phasing plan created for construction of 300 new units on the site of Grove Manor shows the project will start with phase two, adjacent to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, before progressing to phases to the east along First Street.

The phase being initiated with the current funding is designed to include 90 units, while two subsequent phases will include another 210 units. Gibson expressed optimism that getting the first funding will lead to additional tranches of funds in future annual grant cycles.

Grogan pointed out that most existing buildings will not be demolished until his company is ready to begin construction. The process still requires credit underwriting through the federal Housing and Urban Development agency, which comes with federal permission to demolish all the present structures, could take as much as a year.

As part of the agreement with the city, the Housing Authority has agreed to convey two parcels, identified as Phase IV, to the CRA so that they may be replatted as single-family homesites. The CRA's ongoing infill housing program is successfully partnering with private not-for-profit organizations to build new and improved housing stock in the Northwest Neighborhood.

 

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