The weekly feature "A simple question" continues this week, for the three mayoral candidates in Apalachicola - Kevin Begos, 109 15th Street; Amy Hersey, 451 Morris Cannon Street; and Valentina Webb, 255 11th Street. The question is:
Whether you call it affordable housing or workforce housing, a problem exists in Apalachicola for many residents who can neither rent nor buy a place to live that is within their budgets. Is this an issue that the city should address directly, and if so, how? What approach would you take? Be as specific as possible.
The following are the candidates' responses, in reverse alphabetical order:
There is, without question, an affordable housing shortage for our current low- and moderate-income residents. Escalating real estate values are compounding the unavailability of rental and mortgageable residences. Our city is well-positioned to have a limited, but powerful, role in resolving this issue.
For the past year, I have been on the Affordable Housing Task Force organized by the city planner in coordination with the city manager, the Franklin County Land Trust, Save Our Shotguns and other housing advocates. As an advisor to Save Our Shotguns, I learned a lot about this issue. We built an affordable home, with covenants to prevent profiteering, and a young professional couple – working at ANERR – is happily at home in it.
The task force is now applying for an $800,000 Triumph grant to seed the affordable housing project which will provide a mixture of inexpensive and dignified rental and owned housing in Apalachicola. The city has 55 minimally taxed, underutilized lots. Many of these are on water and sewer lines. If we use these lots as equity to secure the grant, then sell them at affordable levels to our workforce who qualify under USDA and SHIP guidelines for low to moderate incomes, we all benefit.
With the sale of these lots, the city will get a minimum of $3,000 per lot for hooking up water and sewer. The construction process will employ local tradespeople and be a training platform for our youth. When completed, each home will generate an average of $122 per month in water and sewer income, and $81 per month in property tax income. These lots would go from bringing in nearly zero revenue to contributing a substantial income stream in perpetuity.
Additionally, the city could have a role in moderating real estate values and allowing access to housing for our work force. This program, if approved by the city commission, would be administered by a non-profit entity other than the city.
This use of these lots is far superior financially to selling them at auction. Currently, investors and the market are driving the price of lots to a level that the native population cannot afford.
If properly managed, our current wealth of properties can provide both immediate debt relief and substantial, ongoing revenue for needed infrastructure. We’re at a tipping point. Impulsive action offers only momentary relief from our financial distress. Wise, well-thought-out action can position us for a solvent future.
Affordable housing is a real problem that faces the residents of Apalachicola. It affects every part of our society. Teachers and assistants in our school system are unable to find housing for themselves and their families; retail and service workers, including police, firemen, nurses, and city workers must look long and hard and all-too-often far for affordable places to live. This same problem faces many communities and it is important for us to find good answers. I hope we can all agree that this is a very important issue facing our city.
I believe the city of Apalachicola needs to take a multi-faceted approach. First, we have to decide what pay range that we are going to target, $32,000 to $60,000 a year range would be my suggestion. This would allow new teachers, seniors, couples, or young families to be the target of this housing.
Secondly, we are going to have to look at our land development codes and see if they allow for the density we need to keep the prices low. I would suggest allowing a certain number of homeowners a year to build garage apartments or tiny homes on their property that could be rented. This would help the homeowner, the renter, and the city as each new home would have a separate water tap and power bill. This would bring more income into our budget.
Thirdly, we could provide temporary municipal tax exemption incentives to help stimulate growth. The homeowner could have the improved property on the rental market at a reduced rate and qualify for a municipal tax exemption. This participation would be for a set period of time, and as long the property met the requirements, they would be eligible to qualify for such considerations.
The city of Apalachicola also has vacant property that could be sold to help stimulate the affordable housing market. We are holding 42 city lots in the R-3 zoning, 19 lots in the R-2 zone, and one lot in the R-1 zone, that could be sold and developed as affordable housing. These properties have already been identified as surplus property by the city. If sold, these could help the city produce much needed additional income that could be applied to our default debt while stimulating and servicing the affordable housing market.
Our city government should take a far more active role in seeking housing for teachers, restaurant workers, law enforcement, and medical personnel.
It’s a nationwide problem with no perfect solution, but Apalachicola has one major advantage - city-owned lots and land, including almost an entire block around 24th and 25th streets.
Some large cities have special workforce housing zoning. That may or may not be right for us; it needs more discussion. In the meantime we can start with building single-family homes on city-owned land, specifically for teachers and other public workers.
Those homes could be financed using another valuable asset.
Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) money can be used for affordable housing, but the current administration made the mistake of spending most of our CRA budget on salary and overhead.
In the next budget year Franklin County will contribute $48,000 to our CRA, and the city is supposed to make a similar match. That means we already have a fund to generate more than $100,000 each year out of tax revenues. But we’ve been spending it in the wrong place.
CRA funds are supposed to help undeveloped or struggling areas, not pay for grant writing or public relations. CRA projects can even partner with a developer on housing, as the city of Miami did. We can build the kind of affordable housing our community wants - if we take the initiative.
The Apalachicola Area of Critical State Concern also aims "to provide affordable housing in close proximity to places of employment in the Apalachicola Bay Area." That could help us get affordable housing grants or legislative help - after we pay off our state loan default.
There are many great possibilities. We need to make them a reality.