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Venture House moves forward on affordable housing




In South St. Petersburg, Venture House is taking the first steps toward creating affordable housing for artists, entrepreneurs, social innovators and small business owners.

In May, the nonprofit community development organization finalized architectural plans and began interior demolition on a home in the Lake Maggiore Shores neighborhood.  In June, three more properties in the Bartlett Park neighborhood were added to the list.

“It is really exciting to see us move from a great idea into taking action,” says Frank Wells, President and CEO of Venture House. “Three years ago we began just as a seed of an idea -- a winning pitch at a social enterprise contest. It’s amazing to see how much has grown out of this little seed.”

As reported in the July 2014 article in 83 Degrees Media, Venture House is working in partnership with Bright Community Trust, a Clearwater-based community land trust with a goal of “creating healthy and sustainable communities across Florida.”

Both Bright Community Trust, formerly known as the Pinellas Community Housing Foundation, and Venture House are focused on buying run-down, boarded-up homes in “blighted” neighborhoods and turning them into attractive, affordable housing.  

The goal is not only to create quality housing but also in a much bigger sense to revitalize struggling communities plagued by poverty. “Social enterprise is a big part of our mission -- how to use housing as a tool to improve and build community,” says Wells.

It’s also about giving a boost to local residents by helping increase their property values and offering a helping hand to entrepreneurs who can then create local jobs.

Southside CRA designation

Lake Maggiore Shores and Bartlett Park are neighborhoods located within the city’s Southside CRA or Community Redevelopment Area. Some 4,700 acres in South St. Petersburg and more than 20 neighborhood and business associations are included in this designation.  

It’s all part of a long-term plan to bring economic development and revitalization to South St. Petersburg through several initiatives, including improving and rehabbing the housing market to “expand opportunities for entrepreneurs, minority, women and disadvantaged business enterprises and small businesses.” 

The City of St. Petersburg is working with Venture House to identify suitable housing to rehab. The Bartlett Park homes will be new construction built on three vacant lots -- lots that the City of St. Petersburg agreed to give Venture House to fulfill the organization’s community land trust mission.

“It matches the city’s goal of in-filling new construction to make the whole block nicer for local residents,” he says.

Wells expects a bid to go out in the near future to identify a local builder to work with Venture House on the construction. Funding is coming from a combination of private donation and both federal and local funds. 

Showcase demonstration home 

The Lake Maggiore Shores’ home has a slightly different vision.  It will become a showcase demonstration home for Venture House, says Wells.

A “call” has gone out for artists to submit ideas for a proposed art project that will become a permanent fixture in the home.  

“We hope to have an event in the fall where we’ll present all the different artist ideas and have the audience vote on them. Then we’ll crowd-fund those projects that are the favorites,” says Wells.

So far, FunktionHouse, a St. Petersburg artisan furniture  maker who uses locally sourced recycled local trees, will be donating a recycled wood bar top, and the Morean Arts Center, will be creating a glass wall piece, says Wells.

In addition, community volunteers and groups like the Home Builders Institute, a career training organization for the construction industry, have been helping begun demolishing the current structure to get ready for renovation.

The Maggiore Shores showcase home is expected to be finished by early next year.  But the other three homes in the Bartlett Park neighborhood are expected to be ready for occupancy much sooner.

“Our goal is to get those houses built and people moved into them,” says Wells.

Individuals eligible to live in a Venture House-sponsored property aren’t limited to just artists and entrepreneurs in the traditional sense. 

“We’re looking at the arts in a very broad sense. Not just painters and sculptors, but also opera singers, hip hop DJ’s, spoken word artists and poets,” says Wells.

The same scenario applies to entrepreneurs. “It’s not just the next new graduate writing a phone App, but someone launching a catering or restaurant business, landscaping, braiding hair, or even an activist doing great community work,” says Wells.  

“It was Watson Haynes (president and CEO of the Pinellas County Urban League) who opened up my eyes to this idea,” says Wells. “Entrepreneurship can be a path to developing wealth that changes the outcome for the homeowner and the community, especially for people who find there aren’t a lot of job opportunities open to them. Entrepreneurship can be a transformative tool for South St. Petersburg and many other communities.”

Read more articles by Janan Talafer.

Janan Talafer is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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