Clearwater’s vision for housing affordability takes teamwork at the top

This story is produced through an underwriting agreement between the City of Clearwater and 83 Degrees Media to spotlight city programs and initiatives focused on key areas such as economic development and attainable housing. 
As Clearwater leaders continue cultivating new opportunities for residents and businesses to thrive, two city officials are working together to help make living in the community more attainable and affordable.
Community Redevelopment Agency Director Jesus Nino and Economic Development & Housing Department Assistant Director Chuck Lane are working in complementary roles to help bring new life to several Clearwater neighborhoods. 

Nino and Lane are excited to serve the city and its people. They also want locals to know more about who they are and how their shared vision for greater housing affordability will help uplift the entire community. 

Jesus Nino: “Leading a team… to empower communities” 

When Nino joined the City of Clearwater team in late January 2024, he brought a toolbox of diverse experiences and resources suited to address the dynamic needs of the communities he was about to serve.

“I have worked in long-range and special area planning, placemaking, economic development (especially at the hyperlocal level to keep dollars circulating locally), and redevelopment,” Nino explains.

“In addition, I volunteered for nonprofit boards that support community empowerment, building a business, access to capital, strengthening families, and more,” he continues. “My professional and life experiences drive me to want to bring real generational change to communities, and the only way to do that is by working directly with the community.”

Clearwater Community Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Jesus Nino.Nino says he felt compelled to take on the role as executive director of the Community Redevelopment Agency when he heard about proposals to revitalize Clearwater’s North Greenwood community and planned improvements for Clearwater’s Coachman Park and downtown gateway areas. 

“I saw beautiful communities with rich histories and plenty of potential and opportunity to create true community impact,” he says.

He says the Clearwater City Council’s willingness to approve projects that help these communities persuaded him that the opportunity to make real change was too great to pass up. 

What will Nino do in his new role as executive director? 

“I am now leading a talented team of individuals to help realize the vision of the Community Redevelopment Agency, which is to empower our communities,” he says. “We will do our best to implement the community redevelopment plans we have in place to create vibrant communities. I will make sure that our investments are strategically aligned with our plans, goals, and community needs. I will build strategic alliances with the public, not-for-profit, anchor institutions and the private sectors to examine the root causes of issues and to formulate solutions to solve those community issues.”

His vision focuses on taking strategic approaches to revamp the downtown core and gateway areas as well as North Greenwood, with an emphasis on investing in affordable housing, improving infrastructure and public safety and enhancing the overall quality of life. This means doubling down on fostering economic opportunities in those communities and ensuring mobility and public safety remain priorities. 

“The Florida Community Redevelopment Act basically only allows the use of community redevelopment funds for bricks-and-mortar projects,” Nino explains. “That’s where the strategic alliances come into play. In the next year, I hope to build strategic alliances with nonprofit organizations to realize the community’s full potential. With the funds we do have, we will create grant programs for our neighborhoods and commercial areas while we work on long-range strategies.” 

To do this, he plans to work more closely and align goals with other city departments, including Economic Development & Housing. This is where Nino’s collaboration with that department’s Assistant Director Chuck Lane becomes pivotal. 

“Chuck Lane is a very impressive individual, a true jack of all trades,” remarks Nino. “I am lucky to be able to partner with him. [Those in] his division, the Economic Development & Housing Department, are important internal stakeholders and one of my most critical internal alliances since our goals overlap.”

Nino says that, over the years, the Florida Community Redevelopment Act has become more strict on the use of redevelopment funds. 

“But one item that has not changed is ‘the development of affordable housing within the community redevelopment area,’” he adds, citing code verbatim from the Community Redevelopment Act, Florida Statute 163.387(6)(c)(7). 

“Working together, we can leverage our funding pots and expertise with the development community to ensure that residents, current and future, have access to housing they can afford. It’s not only important we increase the supply of affordable housing units to meet the area demand, but it’s also important that the quality of the housing units developed is up there with the best and mixed in with market-rate developments.” 

“Housing affordability has become the most pressing need for Clearwater residents”

Chuck Lane is a familiar face in Clearwater. He joined city government in the summer of 2011. In the summer of 2016, Lane ascended to his current position as assistant director of Economic Development & Housing. His role? To create and manage programs that utilize funds from state and federal programs to provide community resources for improving economic conditions and the overall quality of life for Clearwater residents. 

With his apt experience in government real estate, Lane worked with city staff in creating the North Greenwood Community Redevelopment Area. 

“This lasted two-plus years and involved establishing community relationships and working closely with the Clearwater Urban Leadership Coalition,” he says. “The initial objective was to gain formal approval from the Clearwater City Council and the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners. Following this initial phase, the Planning & Development Department took the lead responsibility to create a community redevelopment plan.” Clearwater Economic Development & Housing Department Assistant Director Chuck Lane.

He admits the challenges that he and his team are up against aren’t easy.

“Housing affordability has become the most pressing need for Clearwater residents,” Lane says.

One reason? Much of the city’s populace is employed in the tourism and hospitality industries. 

“The city’s largest economic driver is Clearwater Beach,” Lane says. “While the beach is a tremendous asset to the city, the tourism and hospitality industry has a history of paying below-average wages, which contributes to the housing affordability issue.”  

Lane and his team want to achieve a healthy balance of housing supply and demand, a necessary ingredient for maintaining a healthy local economy. 

“Clearwater enjoyed an appropriate balance several years ago, but when we achieve a balance once again, it may have a different look,” Lane says.

Lane says the shift toward working from home has given more people the flexibility to live in Florida, historically an inexpensive place to live. But many people who work remotely in the Sunshine State these days earn more than one might typically make physically working in a Florida office. 

“We’re also seeing large numbers of Baby Boomers move to the state,” Lane says. “This has caused an upward shift in rent prices, but the incomes of our local population have not kept pace with these rents. This dynamic is affecting home sale prices in a similar way.”

This scenario has necessitated the creation of initiatives to address housing affordability head-on. The Community Redevelopment Agency is working to identify communities where these efforts may make the most immediate impact. 

“The purpose of the Community Redevelopment Agency is to create a dedicated funding source to address blighted and other socioeconomic conditions within the [agency’s] boundaries,” Lane says. “Tackling these issues sometimes calls for the layering of multiple funding sources.” 

And this is where Lane’s collaboration with Nino is particularly crucial. 

“Mr. Nino and I will be working closely together to ensure that we are maximizing the impact of available funding,” Lane says. “The North Greenwood Community Redevelopment Area particularly identifies the need for affordable housing and other people-based programs.”

“Development that will make homeownership more widely available”

Lane has a multifaceted plan for addressing the housing needs of Clearwater. 

“We need to build relationships with developers and leverage funding effectively,” he says. “We also have to make sure development rights are encouraging the type of development that will make homeownership more widely available.” 

Strengthening partnerships with developers of single-family homes and making mortgages more attainable for those who don’t yet own homes are other key pieces of the plan, Lane says.

“We will be increasing the funding available for our Purchase Assistance Loan Program,” he says. 

Other goals include creating incentives and reducing barriers to the development of affordable and attainable housing. 

Nino says that there will be a more strategic approach to redevelopment in the Clearwater area. 

“We will continue to revitalize the downtown core and elevate the voices of the Downtown Gateway and the North Greenwood communities,” he says. 

“I hope that when the Clearwater redevelopment areas sunset, that we have reached our goals and the downtown core is a vibrant regional destination, and the North Greenwood and downtown gateway areas are prosperous, safe, and that many of the legacy residents and their children, etc., are here enjoying the success of the redevelopment areas.” 

For more information, go to Clearwater Redevelopment Agency and Economic Development and Housing
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Read more articles by Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez.

Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez is a freelance writer who was born and raised in Tampa. He earned his BA in English from the University of South Florida and spent more than three years as a full-time copywriter for a local internet marketing firm before striking out on his own to write for various blogs and periodicals, including TheFunTimesGuide, CoinValue and COINage magazine. He has also authored local history books, including Images of America: Tampa's Carrollwood and Images of Modern America: Tampa Bay Landmarks and Destinations, which are two titles produced by Arcadia Publishing.