By CARRIE WALSH, Charlotte County Human Services Director, The Daily Sun, March 11, 2023.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development defines affordable housing as a dwelling a family or household can obtain-whether through rent, purchase or other means-that costs 30% or less of the household’s income. Since household incomes vary widely, what is affordable to you may not be affordable to me. Essentially, affordability is subjective. However, for most people, the term “affordable housing” means housing built with a government subsidy for income qualified residents.
Building and preserving affordable housing not only affects those who live in it. The economic benefits to communities that have ample attainable and affordable housing has been proven for decades. In fact, studies show housing is critical to reducing intergenerational poverty and increasing economic mobility. But constructing new affordable housing is expensive, complex and slow. On average, an affordable housing project development takes between 4-7 years to complete. Most financing relies on a developer receiving tax credits to complete a project. These tax credits are so difficult to get that funding relies on receiving a high lottery number in the pool of potential builds. Yes, getting funding is essentially winning the lottery!
Charlotte County is not alone or unique in its struggle to meet the need for affordable housing in our community. But that is little consolation to the people who are so desperately in need of a home. The good news is a convergence of opportunity is happening, and we are well positioned to take advantage of it.
For the last few years, our Board of County Commissioners has included affordable housing as a bold goal in its strategic plan. They see the importance of attainable housing for a vibrant community. As a result, locally we have created a path and process called Charlotte HOME that simplifies access to incentives for affordable housing developers. We streamlined the pathway, removed barriers and created an affordable housing trust fund to further entice critical development.
Concurrently, the Florida Legislature has shifted to prioritize affordable housing in the state. One step is to stop the ongoing sweep of the Sadowski Fund, the main source of funding for affordable housing in Florida. There are bills presented in Tallahassee that will further fund and prioritize housing if passed, specifically the Live Local Act of 2023.
Additionally, the resources available for housing through the state are being earmarked for counties most heavily affected by hurricanes Ian and Nicole. While no one wants a hurricane, the opportunity to build and preserve affordable housing units is one we won’t pass up.
Finally, our hard work and patience as a community is being rewarded. In the past couple of years, 143 units of affordable housing have been completed and 756 units of affordable and workforce housing are in process and will come online within the next couple of years. We have a long way to go to keep pace with demand, but our leaders are committed. Our board has championed this need and now the state is responding. We have an engaged Affordable Housing Advisory Committee that meets regularly and invites you to provide input in our next Local Housing Assistance Plan. This plan guides the funding allocation Charlotte County receives from the state. The next AHAC public meeting is at 10 a.m., March 29 at the Family Services Center.