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 Rogers Park Golf Course and the Hillborough River from above. - Julie Branaman
Rogers Park Golf Course and the Hillborough River from above. - Julie Branaman | Show Photo

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Moving To Tampa Bay: Trend Toward Urban Living

510 Metro in Tampa. - Julie Busch Branaman
510 Metro in Tampa. - Julie Busch Branaman
Like their contemporaries across the nation, young professionals in the Tampa Bay region -- many juggling two or three part-time jobs in today's economy -- are looking for more affordable "live, work and play'' housing choices that enable them to walk to work in a clean, safe urban environment.

According to MyNewPlace, one of the largest apartment and home rental websites in the U.S., the average monthly rent for a one bedroom apartment in Tampa in May 2012 was $906. Considering wages nowadays while keeping the whole "don't spend more than half of your income on rent'' rule in mind, $900+ per month is more than many single renters can afford.

But the tides may be starting to change as local apartment designers and developers respond to the simple economics of demand exceeding supply for hip urban living spaces that offer modern amenities at more wallet friendly prices.

Tampa's Metro 510 and St. Petersburg's The Portland Apartments are prime examples of newer projects attracting younger workers by offering lower rents with high-end market rate amenities.

With rents starting at less than $600 a month, both projects filled up quickly and now maintain steady waiting lists.

Why that is happening is easy to understand in today's marketplace.

A study by the Tampa Downtown Partnership found that the average downtown worker commutes about 45 minutes per day, spending approximately $8,000 a year on vehicle maintenance, gas and insurance.

"That's basically what you can pay for rent in a year at somewhere like Metro 510,'' says Debra Koehler, president of Sage Partners, developer of Metro 510.

Keeping Rents Wallet-Friendly

According to Koehler, developers like Sage can build and offer affordable, below-market-rent apartments thanks to allocated affordable housing Federal Tax Credits from the Florida Housing Finance Corporation in Tallahassee.

"Every state gets an allocation of these credits, which are then sold to institutions that need income tax credits off of tax returns,'' Koehler says; Bank of America bought the credits off of Metro 510. "When you get the credits, that reduces the amount of outstanding debts, which allows for lower rents. It's a public-private partnership to build affordable housing below market rent.''

Likewise, The Portland in St. Pete is able to charge cheaper rents thanks to the Federal Tax Credit Exchange Program.

According to Brittany Walsh, director of marketing at The Portland, these apartment communities serve residents with household earnings of 60 percent or less than the area median income. To qualify for an apartment, she says, an individual or household must not exceed the maximum income based on the total number of occupants. For example, a four-person household would have to report an annual income under $33,900.

"Affordable housing has traditionally been built in low-income areas, but with the advent of 'workforce housing' -- a term that embraces the middle class -- projects are moving into almost every area,'' says Jonathan Moore, AIA, manager of  InVision Advisors. "Whether they are affordable or workforce, the projects can be utilized as catalysts to encourage other developments: Retail, medical and office. Today's projects need a symbiotic relationship with cities and property owners.''

Live, Work And Thrive At Metro 510

Rent: Starting at $588 for a one bedroom, $701 for two bedrooms and $808 for three bedrooms.
Location: The corner of Marion and Harrison Streets in downtown Tampa.

Step foot into Metro 510 and you'll immediately find yourself wondering how the rent is so cheap.

Featuring 120 units with granite countertops, contemporary dark wood cabinets with brushed stainless hardware, GE ENERGY STAR appliances, nine-and-a-half-foot ceilings and a great room graced by multiple windows allowing for natural lighting, a one-bedroom space goes for less than $600 per month.

"I will tell you there aren't any other apartments in the area at market rate or as affordable as what we have when it comes to amenities and floor plans,'' says Koehler.

Fulfilling an unmet need and demand for affordable housing in downtown Tampa, Metro 510 is the first workforce housing development in the city with approximately 90 percent of tenants working downtown.

"Most of our residents are first-time dwellers for downtown and absolutely love it,'' Koehler says. "They're wholeheartedly embracing everything -- the parks, museums and activities -- because they've never had the opportunity before. Market rent is about double where we are.''

Residents can also gladly enjoy Metro 510's 14,000-square-foot "Life Center'': The newly renovated St. Paul AME Church building offering WiFi, a 70” flat screen TV, coffee bar, state-of-the-art fitness center, library, multiple computers and even ping pong, karaoke and air hockey.

Upscale Affordable Living At The Portland Apartments

Rent: Starting at $558 for a one bedroom and $752 for three bedrooms.
Location: The corner of 8th Street North and 3rd Avenue North in St. Pete.

Developed by 908 Development Group, The Portland Apartments was meticulously designed to surpass the traditional definition of "affordable housing,'' bringing wallet-friendly, sustainable apartment living to downtown St. Pete in the form of a 12-story high-rise building.

With numerous eco-friendly practices, including improved indoor air quality and designs to maximize natural light aesthetics, 68 units with eight varied floorplans come fully equipped with modern interiors, high-end finishes, ENERGY STAR appliances, low-flow water fixtures and faux wood flooring. In addition, The Portland also offers a community center complete with a library, computer room, state-of-the-art fitness center and even a putting green.

"908 Development's main goal for this project was to offer affordable housing with the finishes, details and amenities usually reserved for higher-end buildings,'' Walsh says.

The Portland was 100 percent leased before it opened its doors.

"There's a constant growing waiting list for units when they come available,'' Walsh says. "Downtown St. Petersburg is flourishing and, in order to continue, we must have people living here.''

Alexis Quinn Chamberlain, a Florida native and freelance writer, can often be found barhopping on Tampa's South Howard Avenue, walking around her North Hyde Park neighborhood and daydreaming with her boyfriend and Chihuahua at Curtis Hixon Park. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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