The City of Lake Wales Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) provides homes to new residents in the Northwest Neighborhood, as part of phase one of the affordable housing initiative.
The city partnered with Keystone Challenge Fund to build two houses on lots previously owned by the Green and Gold Foundation across the street from the B Street Center.
“It’s rewarding to see our efforts positively impact families,” said CRA Project Manager Darrell Starling. “The affordable housing initiative aligns with the steps and goals included in the award- winning Lake Wales Connected Plan for the revitalization of the city’s historic downtown district and Northwest Neighborhood,” he noted.
Officials said the homes have an estimated value of $175,000 with mortgage payments estimated at $950 a month, according to Jeff Bagwell, Keystone’s Executive Director.
“If you have looked at rents, what they cost, very few people can find a decent rental for $950, especially in the market we are in today,” said Bagwell. “This program truly changes people’s lives, and there’s a ripple effect,” he noted.
The houses were built by a collaborative effort of the city, CRA, Keystone, Polk County Housing and Neighborhood Development, and SouthState Bank, formally CenterState Bank.
The city paid $10,000 to acquire the lots. An additional $30,000 to cover closing costs was awarded to the city in the form of a community reinvestment grant from SouthState Bank. The county provided up to $250,000 in initial building costs, while Keystone gave more than $50,000.
CRA officials said the project will generate about $10,000 in tax increment funding over a three-year period, which would cover the purchase price on the empty lots. Increased tax revenues generated by new growth go back to the CRA to be used towards future development projects.
“We know if we do this right, we can take the entire block and really turn it around,” said Bagwell. We’re very excited about coming to Lake Wales,” Bagwell noted. Bagwell also expressed interest in working with the CRA on beautification projects for additional houses along B Street.
Families picked for the housing will go through class work provided by Keystone to cover such topics as credit, budgeting and how to apply for a mortgage.
“When we sell a home to a family, they are prepared, no doubt about it,” said Bagwell.
CRA Chairman Robin Gibson reflected the positive response from city commissioners, which doubles as the CRA board.
“I’m excited to see this partnership go forward. This is something we have been talking about for a while, and this is an avenue that’s going to get us there,” Mayor Eugene Fultz added.
Keystone Challenge Fund is a non-profit organization established in 1991 in Lakeland, Florida. For almost 30 years, Keystone has maximized the availability of affordable housing for low-to- moderate-income home buyers to connect families with home ownership, according to company officials.