Saturday, May 16, 2015

The facts about Affordable Housing planned for Apalachicola

A rendering of what a unit in the planned Denton Cove affordable apartment
community will look like in Apalachicola once completed.

The plan to build a $9.2 million, 52 unit multifamily affordable rental apartment community in Apalachicola first came about following the 2012 collapse of the oyster industry in Apalachicola Bay. Immediate cries for help from local elected officials went up to both Tallahassee and Washington. Help was desperately needed to stem the rising tide of foreclosures and bank repossessions on generational seafood workers affected by the collapse.

The economy in Franklin County was in a tailspin, barely rebounding from years of decreased freshwater flow down the Apalachicola River, compounded by the 2010 BP Oil Spill that wreaked havoc along the Gulf of Mexico.

An assessment completed at the time by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services estimated that 2,500 jobs, which included oystermen, processors and the greater community, would be negatively impacted because of the disruptions in the oyster industry.

Both Tallahassee and Washington heard our cries!  

U.S. Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio held the first ever Senate Field Hearing in Apalachicola on the effects of freshwater flows on Apalachicola Bay. Gov. Rick Scott convened a coordinated state agency effort to work with stakeholders in the county to develop strategies to save the community.  Scott also secured a fishery failure declaration from the Feds for Apalachicola Bay, which led to the current shelling project and job training for displaced seafood workers.

Additionally, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity led a 5 month “Long Term Economic Diversification Summit” which resulted in a series of recommendations to help revitalize the local economy. One of the key issues identified was the dramatic need for improving poor housing conditions in the county. 

Because of these factors and findings, along with the State and Federal governments desire to assist Franklin County workers and families. The developer, Wendover Housing Partners (WHP) was motivated to try to secure funding through Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) from the Florida Housing Finance Corporation (FHFC) to finance the construction of needed, safe, clean and affordable housing for local families in need of such.

To determine the extent of the actual need, WHP relied upon data from the University of Florida Shimburg Center for Housing Studies and market research data used by the FHFC, which revealed that in Apalachicola, there’s an estimated 105 individuals/families with incomes at 50% of the Area Median Income (AMI) or below needing rental housing. In Franklin County the numbers were far greater and showed that there are 398 families and individuals with incomes at 50% of the AMI also in need of rental housing. Families were found to be either living in substandard conditions or paying more than half of their monthly income on housing.

Other nationwide studies conducted have concluded that when families pay affordable rent, they are able to more than double their discretionary income, which in turn allow them to pay for health care, reduce their debt or put money into savings. Local businesses also benefit from affordable housing, because residents have more money to spend on groceries and other items after paying their rent.  In addition, the actual construction of affordable rental housing injects money into the local economy.

Photo of an existing WHP affordable housing community in Middleburg, FL,
can be viewed at www.madisoncommonsapts.com

Studies have also found that state of art constructed and professionally maintained and managed affordable housing communities have actually increased adjacent property values and helped generate additional property tax revenue for local governments. 

The units planned for Apalachicola will actually look like the town houses across 17th Street in front of the proposed construction site and include a clubhouse, swimming pool, fitness center, computer access and other programs to be provided by the management.

Yes, all involved throughout this long and arduous process from the Federal government on down to your local elected officials could consider slamming on the brakes and placing this development on the back burner to pursue the building of a YMCA as suggested instead. But that would contradict our initial cries for help and be counterproductive to the official findings of need.

Besides, a YMCA alone wouldn’t even come close to addressing the basic needs of income challenged workers within the community. Needs that include affordable shelter, food and clothing, all of which are essential to sustaining life, developing a stronger community and a precursor to individual self-sufficiency. Having a YMCA is no doubt desirable and it would be nice, but at the end of the day, we would still be sending kids home to houses with leaky roofs. Houses that are cold in the winter and hot during the summer.

Once completed the Denton Cove  affordable apartment community will become home to our seniors that are currently paying an astronomical cost to heat and cool their substandard homes, disabled individuals, seafood workers, low income working families and those that work in the retail and service industries who are income eligible.  All residents will pay rent, there will be no subsidies or Section 8 vouchers.

I feel certain that the broader Apalachicola community can agree that the people who mow our lawns, serve us in our favorite restaurants or catch and suck our oysters deserve to have a nice, clean and affordable shelter over their heads.

Site plan for the planned Denton Cove Affordable apartment community 
scheduled for Apalachicola

Because of this, it is extremely important that as a community we show strong support toward the construction of affordable housing for our low income workers and their families and make that goal our upmost priority. 

Studies after studies have indicated that without adequate and affordable housing, it's hard for kids to succeed in school, it's difficult for adults to get a job or excel in the workplace, and it's next to impossible for families to stay healthy.

This country was built on a key value that every person should have the opportunity to fulfill their potential. But that can't happen for so many with the obstacle of living in an unstable, unhealthy and unaffordable home.