Case Study

Clermont Ridge in Central Florida

5 min read

A Place for Seniors to Feel Right at Home 

When Shawn Wilson, president of Blue Sky Communities, attended the recent ribbon cutting for the Clermont Ridge Senior Villas development in Clermont, FL, he saw something that made him think the seniors at the brand new development already felt at home. Many of them had put up wreaths on their front doors.

Wilson says the sight of the homey touches increased the satisfaction he felt at the dedication for the new community. “It just shows how the private sector can be involved in helping people get the best out of life,” he says.

Clermont Ridge presented a design challenge that not many communities in Florida face. As its name suggests, it is built on a grade. The entrance is at the highest elevation, and then the land slopes down to a lake. Clermont is located to the west of Orlando in Lake County.

“A lot of creative civil engineering” was involved in laying out the 11 one-story buildings so that all had views of Jacks Lake, he says, which included a lakeside gazebo for residents to enjoy. The one-story design was also intentional to replicate the feel of the villa style.

Low Income Housing Tax Credits financed a large percentage of the development, Wilson says: $11.7 million in equity out of a total development cost of $15.3 million. Ten percent of the units were set aside to go to residents at or below 40 percent of area median income (AMI) with the balance going to those at or below 60 percent of AMI.

The remainder of the financing came from a bank loan and a $1 million loan from a group called Gulfcoast Housing Foundation at two percent. Blue Sky has listed its financial partners as Lake County, the Florida Housing Finance Corp., syndicator Raymond James Tax Credit Funds and Fifth Third Bank.

Each apartment has a large walk-in closet, a front porch sitting area and in-unit laundry equipment. The project consists of 70 one-bedroom units of 600 square feet each. Some of the villas have six units and the others have seven. The community amenities include a clubhouse, activity room, library, free parking and a pool.

“We’re tax credit developers, a private, for-profit company,” Wilson says. “But we really set ourselves apart by focusing on the wants and needs of local governments, local nonprofits and local organizations to try to help them achieve their goals in the area of affordable and workforce housing.”

Working with a Nonprofit
He says, “In the case of Clermont Ridge, we were approached by a local nonprofit agency, Provident Housing Solutions. The folks at Provident wanted to serve the elderly people in Clermont, and in this case, they actually had identified a site already. And they asked us to be a part of what they were doing.”

Wilson notes Blue Sky had done another tax credit project with one of Provident’s board members, so they felt comfortable partnering. “The idea was to do tax credits from the beginning.”

The one-story buildings were not designed just to resemble villas but for the needs of senior residents. “We think it’s great. No one has to climb stairs, and they don’t even have to get in an elevator. They just park right in front of their door.”

With the grade, “it was a challenge because of the topography,” he says, but overall “we were lucky with the site.”

“We hired an architect, and we also hired a third-party general contractor,” Wilson says. A unit of Blue Sky, Carteret Management, is the property manager.

The 15-month build was completed a few months ago, long enough to give seniors the time to move in. Wilson adds they seem “delighted” at the housing.

Blue Sky, based in Tampa, has done a total of 29 developments, all of them in Florida, though Wilson adds he would like to expand to Texas and other states.

Wilson worked for other tax credit developers for 20 years before starting Blue Sky in 2012 with partners. He is a past chairman of the Affordable Housing Providers of Florida and is still on their board. And he continues to enjoy the work, especially tax credit projects. He feels that with them being public-private partnerships, developers can’t be in it only for the money.

At Clermont Ridge, Wilson says he was “immensely satisfied knowing that 70 elderly people in Clermont are going to live out their days in comfort and in style and with a very attentive property management and maintenance team.”

An “Audacious” Nonprofit
The nonprofit in the Clermont Ridge development, Provident Housing Solutions, is a passionate advocate for affordable housing and fighting homelessness, according to its website.

PHS describes its housing team as “audacious,” including President Steve Smith, Vice President Jim Arrington and Treasurer Hank Dunn.

Smith formed a nonprofit, New Beginnings of Central Florida, in 2007 to help those in need transform their lives and recover from homelessness. Smith serves on the boards of Lake County Affordable Housing, the Florida Homeless Coalition, Housing for All and, also, the Florida Council of Homelessness.

PHS has developed a list of guiding principles to end the affordable housing crisis in Florida:

  • Create affordable Housing Trusts with donated land;
  • Offer impact fee waivers and property tax breaks;
  • Eliminate outdated zoning and development restrictions;
  • Fully fund Sadowski Housing Trust Funds;
  • Secure large corporate partnerships;
  • Get government to revitalize neighborhoods (like the Paramore District in Orlando); and
  • Get government to increase the pool of bond and tax credit funding.

The Sadowski Housing Trust Funds mentioned are a state-run housing financier. According to the state of Florida, “The two main programs funded by the Sadowski Trust Funds are the State Housing Initiative Partnership (SHIP) program and the State Apartment Incentive Loan (SAIL) program.”

Mark Fogarty has covered housing and mortgages for more than 30 years. A former editor at National Mortgage News, he has written extensively about tax credits.