Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Affordable Homes in Our Area

Following is a story that ran in the Bradenton Herald a few days ago. It was featured in Planetizen, a planning web site that includes current news articles.

Big push for smaller houses
Company hopes for OK to construct on lots smaller than city codes
Herald Staff Writer

BRADENTON - With some concrete and stucco, a little paint and some sweat, a young man plans to help families in Bradenton own a home, like he does already at age 23.

As president of a construction company, Chris Moskowitz's goal is to build homes families can afford. He does this with an idealistic attitude and expectation of building pride through first-time homeownership for the people who settle in the modest houses he builds.

"Are they perfect? No," Moskowitz said. "But would I live in them? Yes."

The catch for his latest project - squeezing a home on a lot smaller than city code allows, thus requiring a variance granted by the city's planning commission. Approval on Wednesday from the commission would allow Moskowitz to start building seven homes on a plot of land in east Bradenton. The houses would sell for $172,500 each, a price rarely seen on new construction in the area.

The houses are simple and small, with 900 square feet accommodating three bedrooms and two baths. A one-car garage would come with each home along with two wooden rocking chairs for the front porches, a detail Moskowitz hopes will contribute to a friendly atmosphere where neighbors know each other.

Moskowitz pieced together vacant lots to form the approximately 30,000 square-foot area off of 21st Street East, between Seventh and Eighth avenues East.

When his application first landed in the city planning department director, Tim Polk wasn't pleased with the style of the homes, but Polk said Moskowitz has added features the city would like to see on infill construction. The city wanted more detailed features around the windows and doors. Polk now looks at the plans as a pilot project that will spur more construction like it and possibly on a larger scale.

"He's creating value for that particular neighborhood," Polk said.

Infill construction occurs when a developer purchases land in an existing neighborhood and builds homes to fit the surrounding character, all the while increasing value and improving the condition of an area.

The cluster of homes would be nestled between a mobile home park and existing single-family homes in Braden Manor, a neighborhood that has become somewhat blighted, Polk said.

Moskowitz plans to build thirty homes by the end of this year, a significant jump from the 13 his company built last year and the four built in 2004.

Tom Fontana purchased one of the first homes Moskowitz ever built, making himself a homeowner for the first time. He took a homebuyer course and received assistance from the county.

"Nobody likes living in an apartment and paying for something you don't own," Fontana said.

A graduate of Southeast High School, Moskowitz looks to his past as the reason he wants to focus his business on the niche of affordable housing. He lived with his mother most of his life and she never owned a home. They moved often and at times stayed in homeless shelters. Moskowitz considers a home to be a sanctuary or a castle, a place to protect a family.

"A home is a place where you pull up and you have pride," he said.

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