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Affordable housing can’t be built fast enough • St Pete Catalyst



Patricia Ford has been packing up the house she fell in love with and has rented since December 2019.

At 71, Ford, who lives on a fixed income, doesn’t know where she will go next Tuesday – Aug. 31 — the deadline to get out of the two-bedroom Coquina Key home that was sold from under her. Friday, the Realtor called to see whether she’ll be out by then.

Yes. Where to, is the real question.

Ford, who lives with a son, said most two-bedroom apartments she’s inquired about rent for $1,300 to $1,400 a month, which she can’t afford.  She pays $1,000 a month now. She’s on a waiting list for senior housing, but was told the wait will be six months to a year.

She’s called motels – the decent ones — asking for monthly rates. “They’re over $1,200 a month, so you can’t win for losing,” she said.

Ford says she is working with a credit repair company because she had too many credit cards.  But, she said, she’s never missed a month paying her rent.

She can move in with family, but wants her independence. Besides, she said, “All of their houses are full, so I don’t want to inconvenience anybody.”

Ford’s story tells of Pinellas County’s affordable housing crisis.

The Rev. Lee Hall-Perkins, senior pastor at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Clearwater, is co-chair of the affordable housing committee for FAST (Faith and Action for Strength Together), an interfaith and multi-racial group of more than 40 Pinellas congregations that works to solve community issues such as education and housing.

“We are most concerned about the dollars that are already designated for affordable housing, and when we say affordable housing, we are talking about families of four making $56,000 or less a year, and that is 80 percent of the AMI (area median income) or less,” he said.

“What the city of St. Petersburg and also our county is doing is trying to expand what affordable housing is to families who make up to 120 percent of the AMI, which is a little over $80,000. We are concerned about those families who need it the most and that’s the group that is in the 80 percent AMI and below.”

Hall-Perkins said when county commissioners approved four housing developments recently using Penny for Pinellas money, three were completely for families making 80 percent AMI and below. However, he said, “We were disappointed in the fourth project, which included units for families making up to 120 percent AMI.”

The pastor added that the decision went against the county’s resolution meant to address affordable housing.  

There is some hope.

St. Petersburg launched a 10-year plan in 2020 to solve the affordable housing problem. In part, it would create and preserve 2,400 multi-family units.

But following a year of pandemic setbacks, only eight units are complete — Preserves at Clam Bayou, 4146 34th Ave. S — with another 413 in varying stages of development. Rob Gerdes, the city’s neighborhood affairs administrator, says he has high confidence in all being completed.

The majority of units will be for those whose household income is 60 percent of the AMI and below.

According to the latest data from HUD’s Comprehensive Housing Affordability Strategy, 36,470 of the city’s households are “cost-burdened,” that is, pay more than 30 percent of their gross income to put a roof over their heads.

“We’re trying to decrease that percentage as much as possible,” Gerdes said.

Besides encouraging multi-family housing with affordable rents, the city also has made zoning changes to encourage accessory dwellings to single family homes. Gerdes says there has been a “dramatic increase” in accessory dwelling construction, with about 40 currently permitted or under construction.

He also touted the city’s lot disposition program in which lots are provided for construction of affordable single-family homes.

Among the affordable housing projects expected to be complete in coming months is Delmar 745. The downtown St. Petersburg project, which upset neighboring property owners, had been stalled because of a change in general contractors, Gerdes said. It should be finished by the end of the year, he said.

SkyWay Lofts off 34th Street S, next to a Dunkin’ Donuts in the Skyway Marina District, is a busy construction site.  Ryan Raghoo, assistant vice president of acquisitions for Blue Sky Communities, said work is expected to finish soon. “Our goal is to be done by December,” he said, with people moving in by January.

The “vast majority” of its 65 one- and two-bedroom units will be rented to people whose income is 60 percent of the AMI, he said.

Blue Sky Communities is also planning another project in St. Petersburg. Scott Macdonald, executive vice president and CFO, said the company hopes to break ground at 635 64th St. S in late 2022. The property is currently owned by Grace Connection Church. Word of an affordable housing project at that site also drew the ire of the neighboring community.

The four-story development will be known as Bear Creek Commons and create 85 units for renters 55 and over. Macdonald said 90 percent of the one- and two-bedroom units will be rented to people whose income is 60 percent of the AMI. The other 10 percent will be for people at 30 percent.

But important details are yet to be finalized. Blue Sky Communities has not secured all of its financing. Some of it will require city money.

“The city continues to work on housing affordability at Grace Connection,” Gerdes said of the project. “We recently discussed with City Council the possibility of the city funding an affordable senior development there….That money is not approved, but I would anticipate right now it looks like there would be an approximately $2.5 million in potential local government contribution.”

Blue Sky Communities also has plans to build an affordable multi-family development in downtown Clearwater. The nine-story building at 610 Franklin St. will be known as Blue Dolphin Tower and offer mostly one- and two-bedroom units, with a few with three bedrooms. The company hopes to finish the 81-unit project in spring 2023.

It takes a lot to bring affordable housing to fruition, Macdonald said, adding that St. Petersburg “has been great in coming up with funding and other creative solutions to address affordable housing.”

The city gave a $90,000 loan for the SkyWay Lofts project, which also received $700,000 in Penny for Pinellas money from the county.

“The main thing that people don’t understand is how much funding it takes, not just at the federal and state level, but also the local level,” Macdonald said of the quest for affordable housing. “These are public-private partnerships. That means public all the way down to the local municipalities to even try to make a dent in the affordable housing crisis we have in Pinellas County. It takes a collaboration of funding from the federal level all the way down to the city level to make these deals happen.”

But the deals aren’t happening fast enough for many.

“Housing affordability is definitely the number one issue in the Tampa Bay area,” said Karla Correa, an organizer with the St. Petersburg Tenants Union.

“I spoke with somebody who had the option of re-signing their lease for a $200 increase if they signed by Aug. 31, or a $300 increase if they signed by Sept. 30, or if not renewing their lease, it would roll over month-to-month for a $500 increase. We desperately need rent control here.”

On another housing matter, the St. Petersburg Tenants Union is planning a protest with other groups at noon Saturday, in front of U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist’s St. Petersburg office. They will voice their objection to this week’s Supreme Court’s rejection of the Biden administration’s extension of the eviction moratorium.

Meanwhile, Patricia Ford keeps packing. She’s putting her belongings in storage for now.

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Are Sallie Mae Student Loans Federal or Private?



When you hear the name Sallie Mae, you probably think of student loans. There’s a good reason for that; Sallie Mae has a long history, during which time it has provided both federal and private student loans.

However, as of 2014, all of Sallie Mae’s student loans are private, and its federal loans have been sold to another servicer. Here’s what to know if you have a Sallie Mae loan or are considering taking one out.

What is Sallie Mae?

Sallie Mae is a company that currently offers private student loans. But it has taken a few forms over the years.

In 1972, Congress first created the Student Loan Marketing Association (SLMA) as a private, for-profit corporation. Congress gave SLMA, commonly called “Sallie Mae,” the status of a government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) to support the company in its mission to provide stability and liquidity to the student loan market as a warehouse for student loans.

However, in 2004, the structure and purpose of the company began to change. SLMA dissolved in late December of that year, and the SLM Corporation, or “Sallie Mae,” was formed in its place as a fully private-sector company without GSE status.

In 2014, the company underwent another big adjustment when Sallie Mae split to form Navient and Sallie Mae. Navient is a federal student loan servicer that manages existing student loan accounts. Meanwhile, Sallie Mae continues to offer private student loans and other financial products to consumers. If you took out a student loan with Sallie Mae prior to 2014, there’s a chance that it was a federal student loan under the now-defunct Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP).

At present, Sallie Mae owns 1.4 percent of student loans in the United States. In addition to private student loans, the bank also offers credit cards, personal loans and savings accounts to its customers, many of whom are college students.

What is the difference between private and federal student loans?

When you’re seeking financing to pay for college, you’ll have a big choice to make: federal versus private student loans. Both types of loans offer some benefits and drawbacks.

Federal student loans are educational loans that come from the U.S. government. Under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program, there are four types of federal student loans available to qualified borrowers.

With federal student loans, you typically do not need a co-signer or even a credit check. The loans also come with numerous benefits, such as the ability to adjust your repayment plan based on your income. You may also be able to pause payments with a forbearance or deferment and perhaps even qualify for some level of student loan forgiveness.

On the negative side, most federal student loans feature borrowing limits, so you might need to find supplemental funding or scholarships if your educational costs exceed federal loan maximums.

Private student loans are educational loans you can access from private lenders, such as banks, credit unions and online lenders. On the plus side, private student loans often feature higher loan amounts than you can access through federal funding. And if you or your co-signer has excellent credit, you may be able to secure a competitive interest rate as well.

As for drawbacks, private student loans don’t offer the valuable benefits that federal student borrowers can enjoy. You may also face higher interest rates or have a harder time qualifying for financing if you have bad credit.

Are Sallie Mae loans better than federal student loans?

In general, federal loans are the best first choice for student borrowers. Federal student loans offer numerous benefits that private loans do not. You’ll generally want to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and review federal funding options before applying for any type of private student loan — Sallie Mae loans included.

However, private student loans, like those offered by Sallie Mae, do have their place. In some cases, federal student aid, grants, scholarships, work-study programs and savings might not be enough to cover educational expenses. In these situations, private student loans may provide you with another way to pay for college.

If you do need to take out private student loans, Sallie Mae is a lender worth considering. It offers loans for a variety of needs, including undergrad, MBA school, medical school, dental school and law school. Its loans also feature 100 percent coverage, so you can find funding for all of your certified school expenses.

With that said, it’s always best to compare a few lenders before committing. All lenders evaluate income and credit score differently, so it’s possible that another lender could give you lower interest rates or more favorable terms.

The bottom line

Sallie Mae may be a good choice if you’re in the market for private student loans and other financial products. Just be sure to do your research upfront, as you should before you take out any form of financing. Comparing multiple offers always gives you the best chance of saving money.

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Tips to do some fall cleaning on your finances



Wealth manager, Harry Abrahamsen, has five simple ways to stay on top of the big financial picture.

PORTLAND, Maine — Keeping track of our financial stability is something we can all do, whether we have IRAs or 401ks or just a checking account. Harry J. Abrahamsen is the Founder of Abrahamsen Financial Group. He works with clients to create and grow their own wealth. Abrahamsen shares five financial tips, starting with knowing what you have. 

1. Analyze Your Finances Quarterly or Biannually

You want to make sure that your long-term strategy is congruent with your short-term strategy. If the short-term is not working out, you may need to adjust what you are doing to make sure your outcome produces the desired results you are looking to accomplish. It is just like setting sail on a voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. You know where you want to go and plot your course, but there are many factors that need to be considered to actually get you across and across safely. Your finances behave the exact same way. Check your current situation and make sure you are taking into consideration all of the various wealth-eroding factors that can take you completely off course.

With interest rates very low, now might be a good time to consider refinancing student loans or mortgages, or consolidating credit card debt. However, do so only if you need to or if you can create a positive cash flow. To ensure that you are saving the most by doing so, you must look at current payments, excluding taxes and insurance costs. This way you can do an apples-to-apples comparison.

The most important things to look for when reviewing your credit report is accuracy. Make sure the reporting agencies are reporting things actuary. If it doesn’t appear to be reporting correct and accurate information, you should consult with a reputable credit repair company to help you fix the incorrect information.

4. Savings and Retirement Accounts

The most important thing to consider when reviewing your savings and retirement accounts is to make sure the strategies match your short-term and long-term investment objectives. All too often people end up making decisions one at a time, at different times in their lives, with different people, under different circumstances. Having a sound strategy in place will allow you to view your finances with a macro-economic lens vs a micro-economic view. Stay the course and adjust accordingly from a risk and tax standpoint.

RELATED: Financial lessons learned through the pandemic

A great tip for lowering utility bills or car insurance premiums: Simply ask! There may be things you are not aware of that could save you hundreds of dollars every month. You just need to call all of the companies that you do business with to find out about cost-cutting strategies. 

RELATED: Overcome your fear of finances

To learn more about Abrahamsen Financial, click here

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How to Get a Loan Even with Bad Credit



Sana pwedeng mabura ang bad credit history as quickly and easily as paying off your utility bills, ‘no? Unfortunately, it takes time. And bago mo pa maayos ang bad credit mo, more often than not, kailangan mo na namang mag-avail ng panibagong loan. 

Good thing you can still get a loan even with bad credit, kahit na medyo limited ang options. How do you get a loan if you have bad credit? Alamin sa short guide na ito. 

For more finance tips, visit Moneymax.



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