This city’s oldest and largest public housing complex has been razed, clearing the way for a modern apartment complex and a senior living facility. Completed in April and now known as Brentwood Park Apartments, the $40.3 million development is fully occupied by residents eager to live in this popular neighborhood just north of downtown.

A $20 million grant from the HOPE VI program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and nearly $17 million in equity from 9 percent state low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs) met the bulk of the development costs for the 328 apartments.

Built in 1937, the original 594 apartments showed their age in wear and tear, as well as in their lack of modern necessities, according to Ellen Ramsey, chief financial officer of the Jacksonville Housing Authority, which owned the units. “The complex was experiencing electrical problems, drainage problems, plumbing problems,” she said. “It was built when people didn’t own cars, so there was no parking.”

After an extensive feasibility study, the Jacksonville Housing Authority determined it would be far too expensive to renovate the units. It applied to HUD for HOPE VI funds to tear them down and rebuild.

“We were notified that we had been awarded HOPE VI funds in 2003, and we immediately started relocating tenants,” said Ramsey. “HUD awarded us about 325 Sec. 8 vouchers, and we also moved people to other units we owned. So nobody was displaced.”

Although only about 10 percent of the households that were moved out ultimately returned to the development, some residents participated in helping the housing authority design the new apartments.

As a result, each unit now includes a self-cleaning oven, a frost-free refrigerator with icemaker, central air conditioning, ceiling fans, a balcony or patio, an exterior storage closet, and washer/dryer hookups. The development also features a spacious clubhouse with a large community room, kitchen, exercise room, computer lab, and library.

Enhancing the neighborhood

“We also decided that we wanted to fix the infrastructure problems,” said Ramsey. “We redid all the utilities. There was a tremendous drainage problem in the neighborhood, so we redid the drainage on the site. We now have a threeacre lake on what was formerly 51 acres, and we really helped the entire neighborhood by fixing some of its flooding problems.”

The site work alone cost $5 million, and was paid for in part by a $1.5 million grant from the Jacksonville Electric Authority and $1.3 million donated by the city of Jacksonville.

The development’s public support and enviable location—near public transportation, public schools, grocery stores, hospitals, and shopping—enticed Centerline Capital Group to purchase the tax credits.

“The public subsidy provided significant financial assistance to the capital structure of the project and a great incentive for us to pursue this investment,” said Aaron Stevens, senior vice president at Centerline. “The neighborhood also seemed to be a market that was re-gentrifying, and there was tremendous energy at the Jacksonville Housing Authority to take an older real estate project in their portfolio and redevelop it to market-rate quality.”

The project needed all the financing it could get, including a deferred developer’s fee of $3 million. In fact, the smallest funding source—a $500,000 grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta’s Affordable Housing Program (AHP) provided through Bank of America Georgia— proved the most critical.

“Florida went through several hurricanes in 2004,” said Ramsey. “Although our area was not directly affected, construction costs increased dramatically statewide. We couldn’t find contractors, and construction costs originally projected to be $70 a square foot were closer to $95.”

With the AHP grant, the developer was able to fill that gap, and building construction finally got underway in February 2006. The completed development consists of a 100-unit building set aside for people who are 55 or older or have disabilities, 228 garden-style units in 27 buildings, a community center, and a maintenance building.

In total, Brentwood Park Apartments offers 132 one-bedroom units, 164 twobedroom and 32 three-bedroom units. The one-bedroom units are 708 square feet, the two-bedroom units are 900 square feet and the three-bedroom units are 1,140 square feet.

Of the 328 LIHTC units, 226 are set aside for households earning no more than 40 percent of the area median income (AMI) and receive operating subsidy from HUD under an Annual Contribution Contract (ACC). Under the ACC, rent is paid by a combination of operating subsidy and a contribution from the tenant that’s no more than 30 percent of their gross income.

The remaining 102 units will serve residents who earn no more than 50 percent of the AMI.

Meeting resident needs

Ramsey said putting the complicated financing package together proved worth the effort. “The property really flows now,” she said. “People are able to park right beside their units. There’s a big open park area, and we have three playgrounds for younger children throughout the community.”

Ramsey is also proud of the extensive services available to residents.

Residents have access to daycare, Head Start services, employment programs, homeownership counseling, and other supportive services provided or coordinated by the housing authority. In partnership with a local hospital, the housing authority also has opened the Shands Medical Clinic, which provides free health care 12 hours a day at the community center.

In addition, construction of a Boys and Girls Club is underway on the site adjacent to Brentwood Park Apartments. The 16,000-square-foot space—paid for by a $1 million grant awarded by the National Football League after Jacksonville hosted the Super Bowl in 2005—will include a library, classrooms, technology labs, and a fitness center.