SJHP Executive Director Offers Insight During Flagler County Affordable Housing Forum

PALM COAST – Bill Lazar, executive director of the St. Johns Housing Partnership (SJHP) joined Annamaria Long, executive officer of the Flagler Home Builders Association, Maeven Rogers, City of Palm Coast administration coordinator, Scott Culp, a principal at Atlantic Housing partnership and Ali Ankudowich, a technical advisor with the Florida Housing Coalition on a forum addressing affordable housing hosted by Valerie Clymer of the Flagler-Palm Coast Affordable Housing Advisory Committee.

The forum, “From Blueprint to Action,” was held Friday at the Palm Coast Community Center. It was the work of the joint city-county Affordable Housing Advisory Committee and Palm Coast government. It gathered housing experts who shared various perspectives from their vantage points, none of them quick, simple, or cheap, all of them doable, because they are being done elsewhere.

“There are so many different ways to make housing affordable,” Lazar said. “Affordable housing is a subsidy for employers because we are stabilizing their workforce. So, you must think about it as economic development.”

In the Palm Coast area, a family of four living on $39,000 or less is exceptionally low income and could not afford housing at more than $975 a month. The same family living on $52,000 is considered low income.

“Right now, the average housing cost is between 40 and 50 percent of a person’s income,” Clymer, the moderator of the three-hour forum, said. “So that in my book is a little bit too much. It is a recipe for disaster and that is why I am so passionate about it and that’s why I’m glad to be here helping to facilitate this.”

Lazar illustrated his point. At one project in St. Augustine, SJHP built a structure that cost $815,000, but it cost an additional $100,000 to improve water and sewer infrastructure that previously had been the government’s responsibility.

Long has lived the better part of 34 years in the county.

“There are barriers to housing affordability, and some of those are regulatory fees,” she said. A cost she placed locally at $24,000 for a single-family home in Palm Coast (impact fees, inspection fees and the like). Property insurance costs are also hurting homeowners. Then there is rising labor and materials costs.

That tied into Lazar’s earlier point points earlier.

“When we look at these labor costs, it is not easy to just say oh, I want a cheaper home, but labors got to go down. One of the reasons we have such high labor costs is because they cannot afford to live close enough to work,” Lazar added. “You can now make $20 an hour at a fast-food place in certain places. Why is the roofer going to get up on a roof for less than $30 an hour? It is a lot safer to flip a burger.”

It was the only place and one of the rare times in recent years where local governments–the county and Palm Coast–devoted a serious forum to explore tough questions and realistic possibilities to bring more affordable housing to the region.

In the end, Lazar said, “there is always a little pot of money somewhere to help, but what you always have to have people who are going to lead the way. We need elected officials. We need housing staff that are real advocates for it because it’s just like anything else. You have the best policies in the world. But if someone does not carry it forward and say: we need this now, it does not work.”