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St. Petersburg Housing Authority: Providing A Better Future Through Housing

By Elizabeth R. Elstien

Often commended and rated as a "High Performing" agency by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the St. Petersburg Housing Authority (SPHA) is one of the oldest housing authorities in the country. Serving the City of St. Petersburg and areas within a 10-mile radius of the outer city limits since 1937, this worthwhile organization works to create a better future for low-income and disadvantaged people through housing.

Their mission is clearly stated: "It is the mission of the housing authority to provide a variety of safe, sanitary, accessible, decent and affordable housing to eligible citizens of the city of St. Petersburg, while enhancing and promoting resident self-sufficiency." This is accomplished through important core values of integrity, dependability, loyalty and courage.

"Our property management staff and housing specialists create personal relationships with the families they serve, working one-on-one to help give them the tools to succeed," explains Communications Officer Audra Butler. Overall, the SPHA team provides chances for people to reassess life paths and regain self-reliance so crucial in maintaining a home or job.

Of course, none of this could happen without money. SPHA's income is derived from tenant rents, federal subsidies, grants, investments, and inter-agency contracts. Using three main housing programs- Public Housing, Affordable Housing, Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8), the organization provides affordable rentals for those that qualify.

SPHA awarded 23 HUD-funded vouchers to Boley Centers, Inc. and Catholic Charities Diocese of St. Petersburg specifically to house local homeless veterans. These vouchers denote about $175,000 worth of federal funding. Vouchers, explains Butler, "are tied to specific housing units at their properties and must be used to make rent affordable for veterans". Forty HUD project-based vouchers were given to the Pinellas Hope II housing facility of Catholic Charities to be used to temporarily house homeless veterans until they are out of crisis, which may be up to two years.

Another HUD program known as Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) provides vouchers to rent private housing to homeless veterans, similar to how Section 8 works. Butler notes that their ability to keep the voucher is "contingent on their motivation to continue treatment and improve their individual circumstances." Butler proudly states, "Since 2009, HUD has awarded a total of 275 HUD-VASH vouchers to SPHA, in addition to the regular vouchers allotted to the housing authority's HCV/Section 8 program. SPHA pays approximately $2.1 million per year through HUD-VASH to house homeless veterans."

SPHA also spearheaded an initiative to provide low-cost, non-subsidized apartments to young adults transitioning out of foster care to keep them off of the streets and in safe housing, without introducing them to government subsidies. Through this innovative program, SPHA rents double-occupancy units at one of its affordable housing properties to young adults who have aged out of the system and who are receiving case management services. The program, which began in 2012, has won national awards and has expanded to more apartments and other local housing authorities.

Every person or family that finds housing through SPHA is no longer living on the street or their vehicle. There is a sense of pride in knowing there is a warm and reliable place to call home. "With decreasing federal funding for subsidized housing programs," explains Butler, "our work is often frustrating, but the impact we make on the lives of our clients is more than gratifying."

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