During a special Escambia County Board of County Commissioners meeting Wednesday, proposals to build more than $100 million in affordable and workforce housing projects in Pensacola were delivered a pressing blow, essentially killing any possibility they could move forward.
Each of the project’s requests for an allocation of $37,500 in county funds to help move the proposals forward were tabled. Allocating the local funds would have been the first step for the projects to compete against dozens of projects across the state vying for tax credits and financing as part of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation’s affordable housing programs.
The developments — all catered towards providing housing for families living below the poverty line — could have provided new housing opportunities for hundreds of Pensacolians living below the poverty line.
In substantiating the need for affordable housing, the county housing commission points to the nearly 2,000 Escambia County residents waiting for Section 8 housing vouchers or on the housing authority’s waiting list. Developers of the projects contend that this demand for affordable housing is acknowledgment for the need to fill the affordable housing gap in Pensacola.
Among the six developments, two focused on the redevelopment of properties near downtown. The Delphin Downs project proposed at the site of the recently demolished old motor court lodge on West Cervantes Street is one of them, which the county’s housing authority has praised as a prime opportunity for such a development.
“The Delphin Downs development would have a tremendous impact on the Westside neighborhood and would provide people with an opportunity to live somewhat near downtown at reasonable rental rates and recommended approval,” said Mark Hendrickson of the Hendrickson Company, a consultant for the housing authority.
While all of the proposed developments were tabled Wednesday, the controversy centered primarily around one development in Myrtle Grove in west Pensacola. During community meetings this week, neighborhood residents cited such concerns as crime and the need for more infrastructure before approving such a large scale development.
“I don’t think that low-income housing is appropriate for this area,” said Jaclyn Bashaw, a resident of Myrtle Grove. “Maybe they should try East Hill.”
FHFC mandates that projects competing for public financing and tax credits must set aside at least 20% of the units for households earning 50% or less of the area median income or at least 40% of the units must be set aside for households earning 60% or less of the area median income.
Each development is also required to secure a verification of the presence of proper infrastructure, such as roads and sewer, for each site as well as a verification that the property is zoned for the proposed use. Additionally, each development must set aside a portion of the Extremely Low Income (ELI) units for persons with a disabling condition.
As part of the FHFC’s approval process, each development would undergo a rigorous underwriting process. Two of the developments, Abbington Oaks and Delphin Downs, had also applied for local bond financing through the Escambia County Housing Finance Authority, which secured a third party review of those developments. According to the FHFC, these developments are monitored regularly by the state for physical condition as well as the tenants served. Developments not providing the amenities or serving the income set asides would jeopardize their tax credit standing.
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.