Executive Director, St. Johns Housing Partnership
New homes and communities are making all the headlines. Not the lack of affordable housing in Northeast Florida that is negatively impacting the local economy and making life for hardworking workers and families even more difficult.
Stable, decent quality and affordable housing is essential for our communities and the economy in general. Housing instability can hamper workers’ ability to find and maintain employment.
Housing costs (rent or mortgage) should represent around 30% of your income. When you pay close to 50% of your income for housing, you are one step away from a crisis.
Affordable housing crisis in Saint-Augustin
People who live in affordable housing tend to be more stable, long-term employees because they don’t need to move as often and have difficulty coming to work regularly.
We have first responders, law enforcement, firefighters, and rescue workers who have to live outside of the county they serve because they can’t find affordable housing. The same is true for hospital and medical staff.
Businesses benefit from a stable employee population because it reduces employee turnover and the costs associated with training new employees. It also reduces problems associated with unreliability about whether enough employees will show up for work.
You have seen the signs. Help wanted or worse – closed or reduced hours. Local restaurant, hospitality and retail industries face the same dilemma. They are unable to find and keep employees and their doors open.
Even the construction workforce is shrinking in this robust housing boom. Builders and developers are in their chosen field to earn money. Nobody questions this fact.
State and local government policies should encourage affordable housing, including programs that incentivize private-sector developers and builders to build affordable housing (for example, by offering density bonuses or other regulatory reliefs). ‘they include a number of affordable housing units in their projects) .
This can be an important way to grow the economy and contribute to the overall prosperity of the whole community.
Local governments, builders and community leaders have the ability to influence and increase affordability. The challenge is to bring together the ingredients to make it more affordable quickly.
It seems easy enough.
But those in power who have access to funding and legislation to ease the burden on the workforce must be held accountable and committed to finding a solution.
The sad truth is that if their constituents don’t need it (or don’t understand it), it’s not a priority or a sense of urgency. Northeast Florida has millions of federal dollars in COVID relief funds. Some should be allocated to affordable housing.
Develop meaningful and measurable goals and strategies that promote the development of affordable workforce housing to meet local needs and monitor progress toward these goals.
Another challenge is real estate investors buying land and houses that could be allocated for affordable housing.
But transactions by institutional investors and home pinball machines have helped push U.S. home prices up more than 20%, according to analysis by Moody’s. They have hurt the ability to provide affordable housing.
According to CoreLogic, the Jacksonville MSA, which includes St. Johns County, has seen one of the largest increases in investor buying, leading to some of the largest price gains in the nation.
It’s time to support nonprofits, government funding, and public/private partnerships to preserve or expand additional housing for low- and middle-income households. They need both starter homes and affordable rentals.
One way is to donate or sell property to non-profit housing agencies to pave the way for much-needed affordable housing.
Bill Lazar is executive director of St. Johns Housing Partnership in St. Augustine. The non-profit SJHP creates and maintains safe, clean and affordable housing and offers a variety of services, including housing advice. Contact him at [email protected]