A part of Newtown is definitely new with the ribbon cutting of the King Stone Townhomes on Martin Luther King Jr. Way Wednesday morning.
The 28 townhomes are an affordable housing project by the Sarasota Housing Funding Corporation, which is a nonprofit arm of the Sarasota Housing Authority. The new complex replaces the crime-ridden and awful conditions of the Mediterranean Apartments, which began demolition Dec. 2, 2011.
To Bill Rusell, the executive director of the Housing Authority, the complex marks a transformation of both the neighborhood and the Housing Authority.
Seven years ago, the Housing Authority had to be placed in federal receivership because the organization and its properties were falling apart, Russell said. Now a local board is in control and is building new communities and has new jobs and education programs in place to support its 2,100 low income families the organization serves.
"You see residents who are living in much improved conditions with a responsive landlord who is continuously improving our housing stock if not redeveloping them entirely," Russell said.
King Stone is classified as an affordable housing unit, made for residents earning below 50 percent of the median income and low income families earning 80 percent below the median income, paying a federal Housing and Urban Development rate rent, but that rent is not subsidized, Russell said.
The brownstone architecture designed by GLE Associates harkens of the up-and-coming neighborhoods of Baltimore years ago with their trademark form stone row houses.
"The Housing Authority conceptually thought of a brownstone image trying to get the first level off the street since the project is right on the street, to get it up high so the traffic isn't such a problem," Housing Commissioner Chairman Michael Carlson said.
People are applying to be in the affordable homes, and the units will be ready to be moved into in the next 14 days.
The units, which are available in 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments, have Energy Star appliances, hurricane-proof doors, energy efficient windows and several units have wheelchair-accessible showers and baths.
"It's not what you think of public housing," Carlson said. "It's quality apartment construction."
And that construction was done through Tandem Construction and Suncoast Workforce Board who hired more than 75 percent local subtractors, including 35 new hires of north Sarasota workers, Russell said, and 12 who were Sarasota Housing Authority residents.
Vice Mayor Willie Charles Shaw was thankful for that.
"I want to thank God for the LPW—that's the local people working," Shaw said. "The BPW—that's the black people working because without this we could not have that."
Mayor Suzanne Atwell said the development "levels the playing field" for city residents.
"It figuratively and literally breaks down walls," Atwell. "It breaks down the bad walls and brings up the good walls. It levels the playing field in all districts in our city."
Hopefully neighboring property owners will be encouraged to redevelop or remodel their properties to fit in with the fresh look on MLK Way, Carlson said.
"We actually took one of the most blighted apartment buildings on MLK and tore it down, and built this beautiful building, and the idea was to transform this neighborhood," he said. "And it will over time."
King Stone received $2.5 million in funding from a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant for 25 of the units while the City of Sarasota loaned the Housing Authority money for three additional units.
The next project for the Sarasota Housing Authority is Janie's Garden Phase III, Carlson said. The Housing Authority is ready to tear down the final piece of the old complex and will apply for funding this year to build the new homes, he added.
The Housing Authority also opened up the Diamond Oaks Apartments in November, which was a $2.25 million low income housing rehabilitation project.