New apartments in Tampa combine affordable housing with aesthetic excellence

Stark, austere, basic. Adjectives historically used to describe affordable housing have no place at The Heights, which joins The Graham as the second Seminole Heights affordable housing project on the Gracepoint Campus. DDA Development, PLACE Architecture, and Gracepoint Wellness planned each of the 64 units to offer comfort, class, and community.

Since The Heights’ December 2020 ribbon cutting, residents have been enjoying high-end cabinetry, island kitchens and Energy-star rated appliances. There’s plenty of space in their walk-in closets; the 9-foot ceilings lend an air of spacious luxury throughout. What’s more, it’s all affordable. By the time the complex doors opened, nearly every unit was pre-leased, showcasing the need met by such a project.

“There are many respectable affordable developments; we strive to differentiate ourselves by treating these developments not as part of the bigger strategy of development, but as more “custom” buildings. Adding artistic elements, etc. helps further that effort,” says Bowen Arnold, Principal of Tampa-based DDA Development.

Such a project makes good business sense, he believes, this building of quality apartments that inspire resident pride and provide an impetus for upkeep. DDA has spent the last 26 years developing affordable housing; the developer owns and operates nine of them. Thanks to the 1,000+ market-rate apartments that fill its portfolio, DDA is able to leverage economies of scale. The result is all its projects receive quality finishes, not just the high-end ones. 

It’s a welcome advancement in a long-reaching issue. Affordable Housing is a visible Tampa Bay challenge. A University of Florida study completed in 2019 reveals that Pinellas, Pasco, and Hillsborough counties featured the fewest affordable units available at 10-25 units for every 100 renters. According to Susan Morgan, Gracepoint’s VP of marketing and development, Tampa Bay is one of the top 10 fastest growing regions in the United States. COVID-19, she says, has made it even more abundantly clear how important it is to have a home that is affordable.

The answer to this affordable housing challenge is not simple. Developers must embrace a maze of tax credits and lower-interest loans. Expenses stay the same for developers, while rents generate less income. And residences must feature more than ‘bare bones’ necessities to inspire renters. Where others see challenges, though, Arnold witnesses opportunity.

“Although the state program is highly competitive, he says, the developer can make a good development fee, lease-up is usually fairly easy as rents are below market, and affordable developments typically see higher occupancy rates during downturns in the economy, so there is less “market risk” versus other real estate classes.“

The partnership among DDA, Gracepoint, and PLACE Architecture draws upon the best of each organization’s capabilities. DDA brings development and financial ability. PLACE Architecture is committed to innovative architecture and urban design. Gracepoint advises on the project, including upon the design, and oversees and manages the complex upon completion. A nationally accredited nonprofit, Gracepoint’s presence is seen even in the smallest details at The Heights. Seven majestic oak trees are incorporated into the grounds, for example.

“The building’s indoor and outdoor social spaces are located adjacent to the trees; the front façade is painted to represent dappled sunlight through the tree canopy,” says Tim Clemmons, principal of PLACE Architecture.

Such aesthetic details are not lost on its developers or its residents. After all, home is not just a space to stop; it’s a space to live, reflect, and grow. Gracepoint Wellness, DDA, and PLACE continue to bring that capability to residents through their projects. And they are doing so affordably -- adding adjectives like spacious, welcoming and stable to the description of affordable housing.
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Amy Hammond is a freelance writer and author of children’s books that encourage the next generation to attend college. When not indoctrinating youth about the necessity of higher education, she enjoys exploring the paradise that is her St. Petersburg home. She holds a degree in Public Relations from the University of Florida and a Masters in Secondary English Education from the University of South Florida. Her work has appeared in such venues as the Tampa Bay Times. Children’s Book Titles by Amy Hammond include: When I Grow Up, I’ll Be a Gator; When I Grow Up, I’ll Be a ‘Nole; When I Grow Up, I’ll Be a Bull; When I Grow Up, I’m Bama Bound; When I Grow Up, I’ll Be a Tiger.