Affordable housing will be built in Pinellas Park for Vincent House members

PINELLAS PARK — A six-unit apartment complex for Vincent House members will likely break ground in Pinellas in the first quarter of 2024, pending adequate financing.

Vincent House is a non-clinical, community-based program aimed at enhancing the social and vocational skills of people with mental illness. It was founded in 2003 by co-founders Elliot and Diane Steele, who were motivated by their daughter’s diagnosis of schizophrenia. Their mission is to provide a safe environment for people seeking to reclaim their lives and function again in society.

“The goal of the complex is to help members who are unlikely to get somewhere,” Diane Steele said. “We want to help members who are on the brink of becoming homeless.”

Pinellas CEO Karis Kaiser added that mental illness and homelessness are not a good combination. “We intend for our housing project to provide a safe and affordable home to our members for as long as they need it,” she said.

An important step towards implementing this vision was the donation of two parcels of undeveloped land by Vincent House Board Member Mark A. Ballinger Sr. and his wife. This land, located at the intersection of 67th Avenue N and 37th Street N in Pinellas Park, was originally acquired more than 20 years ago with plans for live-work units. However, over the years, the Ballingers’ priorities changed, leading them to donate two lots to Vincent House.

Ballenger told Tampa Bay Newspapers they donated the land to let those who help fund the construction know that someone in the community is helping them.

“The holistic approach here is like a village,” he said. “However, what we found over the period of time is that people say: ‘We will donate but we don’t want them in our village.’” So, you face a lot of barriers from that point of view.”

Ballenger expressed that they are moving in the right direction with the project and feel the need to provide more affordable housing in the community.

“You have to help those who are least able to help themselves,” he said. “That’s why the board members are here and that’s why we’re here.”

To bring this project to life, the Ballengers teamed up with Vincent House President David Lambert and construction company Namasté Realty LLC to design plans for the 6-unit apartment complex.

“It has been our experience that a person with mental illness likes their own space while also being close to their community,” Ballinger said. “We have this saying in our church: ‘Where two or more come together there is conflict.’” This is where the idea for the 6 single bedroom apartment came about, and Namasté designed a modern and unique design.

Ballinger expressed that the housing project is something dear to their hearts. “Once members are able to get back on their feet with the right advocates, doctors and medications, they can return to society,” he said.

“We see a positive impact when this happens,” Ballenger added. To experience the culture and community at Vincent House and the friendships that come with being here.

Diane Steele explained the funding process and donations from private donors.

“The county looks forward to helping us with funding; “We don’t know the amount at this point, but Section 8 vouchers would be a huge help,” she said.

According to the Pinellas Housing Authority, the Section 8 program provides rental subsidies to eligible renter families (including singletons) in newly constructed, rehabilitated and existing rental apartment and co-op projects.

Without financial assistance, it will be difficult to manage the rental rates required to maintain the apartment complex.

Elliott Steele told Tampa Bay Newspapers that Vincent House already has some funding from private donors, but once the rest of the funding comes in, they will get started on the project.

For more information about Vincent House visit: www.vincenthouse.org

For more information about the Pinellas Housing Authority visit: www.pinellashousing.com

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