Lack of the ‘right kind of housing’ Fueling Northeast Florida’s Affordable Housing Crisis

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (January 3, 2022) – – Parts of Florida consistently rank as some of the most unaffordable places to live with the combination of low incomes and high housing costs. The St. Johns Housing Partnership (SJHP) would like to see a plan to solve the crisis.

Most workers in Florida cannot afford to rent a typical two-bedroom apartment. A full-time worker would need to earn $24.43 an hour to pay the typical rent of $1,270 a month, but the median wage in Florida is $17.26 an hour according to the Florida International University Metropolitan Center.

The Shimberg Center at the University of Florida warns that the housing costs are also pricing many people out of the market. The median home price in Florida peaked in 2006 at about $337,000 and, while prices bottomed out during the Great Recession, they have steadily increased again and are now at just over $300,000.

“There needs to be a local plan to address the affordable housing crisis. Not short term, but long term,” said Bill Lazar, Executive Director of the St. Johns Housing Partnership. “Invariably, you’re going to have to spend more money on this issue to begin to solve it throughout the state of Florida.”

The plan would entail public and private partnerships with local governments listening and acting on action items to increase affordable housing including spending available funding. Congress approved $1.9 trillion package, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). This act includes $362 billion in state and local funding.

St. Johns County is estimated to receive $51.3 million. The City of St. Augustine is estimated to receive $6.5 million. And the City of St. Augustine Beach is estimated to receive $2.9 million.

“The problem is not that housing is not being built,” said Lazar. “There’s a lot of development going on. It is just not the right kind of housing that is being built. It is uncoordinated with local needs. Developers and builders do not find that kind of construction to be particularly lucrative. They are following the market. They’re following the profit, and the profit is in market-rate housing.”

Investor-owned properties — especially large corporate owners, such as private equity firms, which swooped into the state on the forefront of the housing collapse more than a decade ago, are now flexing their muscle, while adding fuel to the fire.

Housing affordability is and has been a challenge in parts of Florida for years. The crisis is the mismatch between what people earn and their inability to find housing that is affordable to them. It affects the old. Middle aged. And the young.

More than 91,000 Florida school kids experienced homelessness during the year before the pandemic began, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. Of those children, 11,000 spent their nights in what have become shelters — motels. That is more than any other state except California, which has a much larger population than Florida.

The inability to afford safe and stable housing, is “the biggest crisis in this country.” according to Andrew Ross, who has studied and reported on Florida’s housing market for years. Ross is the author of “Sunbelt Blues: The Failure of American Housing.”

The Florida Legislature passed SB 2512, which reduced the amount of money going into the Sadowski fund from twenty-four cents on the dollar to 9.7 cents and passed a law intended to ban fund sweeps in the future.

If legislators abide by the new law this year, they will have a projected $315 million to use from the fund. The governor proposes adding another $40 million to support workforce home ownership, including down payment assistance and closing cost assistance.

That money would come from reserves, now available because of the governor’s veto of a previous attempt by legislators to sweep $40 million from the affordable housing trust fund.

The St. Johns Housing Partnership is collaborating with builders, developers, housing and health agencies and other stakeholders to bring focus on the crisis to policy and lawmakers.

For more information contact Bill Lazar at (904) 824-0902 or blazar@sjhp.org.

Founded in 1996 the St. Johns Housing Partnership (SJHP) is committed to providing safe, decent, and affordable housing in North Florida. SJHP creates partnerships between public and private sectors including investors on projects that create low- and moderate-income housing, rebuilds neglected homes and revitalizes neighborhoods in disadvantaged areas while supporting programs that enhance community economic and social development including counselling on homeownership and finances. For more information visit www.sjhp.org.