Las Villas Apartments were officially opened with a blessing ceremony and ribbon cutting on Wednesday, June 22, 2022.
The former Carol Motel located in Ruskin, Las Villas, an abandoned 13-unit, single-story complex, was rebuilt from the studs-up through a partnership between Catholic Charities and Hillsborough County’s Affordable Housing Services Department. The nearly $2.1 million project took over one-year to complete.
Monsignor Robert F. Morris, Vicar General of the Diocese of St Petersburg and President of Catholic Charities Board of Trustees, prayed to bless the building and its residents and assisted by Fr. John McEvoy, V.F., pastor of nearby St. Anne Catholic Church, sprinkled holy water on the building, grounds and each unit’s door.
The ceremony was attended by local parishioners of St. Anne and a host of others. Among them: Hillsborough County Commissioner for District 7 and Chair, Kimberly Overman, several Hillsborough County staff, Board member, Cecelia Mahone, Catholic Charities donors, Harry Hedges and Marc Rosenwasser, and representatives for Sen. Rick Scott, Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Ron DeSantis, and U.S. Representative Vern Buchanan.
The audience heard brief remarks from several of the attendees touching upon the private-public partnership to the repurposing of an abandoned motel:
- Mr. Tramaine Whittey, representing Hillsborough County’s Affordable Housing group, said, “we are ecstatic for the grand opening and look forward to more amazing projects and partnerships.”
- Ms. MarDee Buchman congratulated Catholic Charities and Hillsborough County on behalf of Rep. Buchanan, reminding the audience “rentals have increased 30% in Hillsborough County” which is why Rep Buchanan was a “co-sponsor of the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act…an important resource for creating affordable housing.”
- Mr. Luis Laracuente shared a letter from Sen. Scott that read in part: “I am honored to join Catholic Charities in celebrating the opening of your new facility…” Thank you for providing a source of strength and perseverance for Florida families.”
- Ms. Overman, who also chairs the County’s Affordable Housing Advisory Board, remarked about the nature of the partnership between Catholic Charities and Hillsborough County: “What is incredibly unique to this project is that we gave new life and purpose, to what was an otherwise rundown motel.” It is partnerships like these that are incredibly important and vital to find alternative and creative ways to build more affordable housing inventory in Hillsborough County.”
- Mrs. Maggie Rogers, Executive Director of Catholic Charities, concluded by saying, “We have been in crisis for some time…Wages are flat, unemployment and underemployment are high while housing and rent costs continue to rise. The average person simply cannot afford it. Our goal is to help prevent as many families as possible from becoming homeless by creating more affordable housing.”
Mrs. Rogers then invited Msgr. Morris to pray the Rite of Blessing and Sprinkling of Holy Water. Monsignor filled in for Bishop Parkes who, sadly, could not be present as he was rehabilitating from a recent surgery. After the blessing prayer and sprinkling of the building, resident Casimiro Garcia joined the group for the ribbon cutting as he wielded over-sized scissors to do the honors and officially open Las Villas Apartments! After the formalities, guests toured two of the units, took photographs, chatted amongst themselves, and enjoyed refreshments in the hot, Florida summer sun!
Las Villas Apartments is the sixth of eight Catholic Charities new affordable housing complexes which will have been opened by the end of the year in response to Bishop Parkes challenge to create 8 to 10 locations of affordable housing as part of the Courageously Living the Gospel initiative launched in 2019. Next up: Mercy Oaks Apartments (Tampa) which we hope to open in August and then St. Benedict Apartments (Crystal River) in December. See you there!