Apalachicola city commissioners Tuesday evening approved a partnership with the Conservation Corps of the Forgotten Coast which calls for a $100,000 investment to train young people in the construction industry as they build three affordable housing units over the next two years.
By a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Brenda Ash voting no, the commission supported a plan proposed to them by Joe Taylor, director of Franklin’s Promise Coalition, which sponsors the Conservation Corps (CCFC), a job training program for young adults under age 25..
The initiative outlined by Taylor has three distinct phases, the first of which calls for an infusion of $20,000 as a “capacity building” grant. This money is earmarked to cover the costs of compulsory industry training program for eighth to 10 CCFC crewmembers, and on-the-job training with oversight from a licensed residential general contractor.
The intent is to have this CCFC crew work on a single-family housing project, roughly 1500 to 1800 square foot, to gain on-the-job training with a local contractor and subcontractors.
“We’ve talked to some (contractors),” Taylor said. “We hope to be able to work on site to practice. We’ll match the job site and appropriate contractor.”
The plan specifies that a homeowner interested in having their home built in partnership with the CCFC must apply to Franklin’s Promise Coalition, Inc. and provide proof of funding for the cost of construction, written confirmation that Florida’s State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) Program is being pursued; complete building plans, along with a sound construction cost estimate, sales commitment for purchase of a buildable lot; and income at or below the maximum limit as designated by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Taylor estimated that this first phase of the pilot project would be done in the next six to eight months, with the second phase taking another year or so.
Phase II calls for those CCFC youth trained in the first phase, with one of them having earned their contractor license, to work on two workman-style cottages, each 800 to 1,000 square feet, two-bedroom, two-bath, to be built on three half-lots that the city owns on 24th Street,
The city would provide the lots, as well as an infusion of $40,000 for each house to cover the cost of materials. These units would be sold as a package (property and structure) to a qualified low-income resident at the discretion of the city, with proceeds then re-invested into the next phase of the initiative. Noted in the plan is that selected CCFC crewmembers could trade their construction services for an opportunity to reside in the workman cottage units for a period of one year.
Taylor estimated that each of these units eventually could be sold at a cost of about $95,000, with the city recouping its $10,000 Phase I investment per house, as well as the estimated $24,000 for each lot.
The third phase of the initiative would build on the success of the first two phases, by having the CCFC put forth this program as match for an application to the U.S. Department of Labor’s YouthBuild Program. That highly competitive program, for youth ages 16 to 24, is targeted for at-risk youth and offers them further training in construction as they work on building or rehabbing affordable housing low-income or homeless families.
Taylor stressed in his remarks that the proposed initiative “will not only provide an avenue to increase the city’s affordable housing stock for both its low-income and local service workers, it will also increase the labor force in the local construction service industry.”
The plan drew a favorable response from Mayor Van Johnson, who said it was along the lines of the vocational program that the late Wallace Hill once offered to high school students in Apalachicola.
“With this type of training these guys can walk on a site and make $14 an hour,” he said. “It offers broader training, and a comprehensive approach.”
City Commissioner Frank Cook was supportive as well, noting that in addition to building more affordable housing, the city helps address the need for vocational training for its youth. “It’s a win-win-win,” he said. “You’re getting more than just a house.”
Commissioner Brenda Ash said she supported the concept, but questioned Taylor as to the extent that Franklin’s Promise would be committing its own dollars towards the initiative.
“Where my reservation comes in is in the recycling,” she said, referring to the reinvestment of funds in to the program. “The $20,000 does not recycle back into the process, is my understanding. Is there a way to do one pilot program? Is there no form of collateral that can be given to ensure the funds are not lost?”
Taylor said that the initial outlay will be recouped when the two houses proposed for Phase II are sold.
“We’re asking you to take a chance on us and you’re going to get at least $20,000 in labor. Yes, there is a risk but you have to look at those benefits,” he said.
Taylor also noted that the initiative fits in with the community’s vision surrounding the Denton Cove controversy, in that residents said they supported affordable housing, but preferred it be done as single-family units, rather than as a multi-unit, low-income complex.
“We really listened to the things the community said. We believe that well-made, easy-to-maintain units are a great way to go,” he said. “That’s how we got on this piece.”
Taylor said he and Holden Foley, who is in the running to become trained as a general contractor through the initiative, and Karl Sanford, who is handling the CCFC’s Living Shoreline project, traveled last week to Gulfport, Mississippi to learn more about the well-established home-building initiative in that community, started after Hurricane Katrina. In addition they traveled to Pensacola, and to New Orleans, Lousiana, to learn more about other Conservation Corps projects.
Taylor said he also plans to meet with Superintendent Traci Moses, to see about a possible partnership with the district’s alternative learning program. Currently, the district spends $3,000 a month to provide education support for the CCFC, which is handled by retired education Elinor Mount-Simmons.