The wrestle for inexpensive housing

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County Commissioner Henry Dean speaks at a groundbreaking ceremony for the San Marcos Heights apartment complex on June 28th.  Florida Realtors organize a voting initiative to keep the Sadowski Fund exclusively for affordable housing so that more such projects can become a reality.

Victor J. Raymos

Managing Director, St. Augustin / St. Johns County Brokerage Committee

During the last session of the Florida legislature, approximately $ 450 million in the Sadowski Trust Fund was split – 60 percent allocated to its intended purpose for affordable housing for workers and 40 percent for other non-residential uses.

The Sadowski Fund was established many years ago and the funds generated from excise tax on real estate documents were specifically earmarked for affordable housing for workers. In recent years, state lawmakers have diverted more than $ 2 billion from the fund to independent projects.

As a result, there is an urge to include a constitutional amendment on the general ballot during the next election cycle. In short, the proposed initiative is that monies deposited in the Sadowski Trust Fund must be protected from being used for purposes unrelated to housing construction.

In addition, the funds may only be used for the access and availability of affordable housing, including funding programs for new construction, down payment and assistance with closure costs, refurbishment and funding for the development of affordable housing.

A volunteer group has formed to circulate a constitutional amendment petition in hopes of collecting signatures from nearly 1 million registered voters for submission to the Florida Secretary of State. The petition calls for the proposed change to be put on the ballot in the November 2022 general election.

To be successful, the petition must have more than 900,000 valid signatures from registered Florida voters. The volunteer group must collect more than 1 million signatures to enable the elimination of petition signers who (for whatever reason) are not recognized as valid current registered voters.

Many may ask, is this really necessary? Is there a shortage of affordable housing for workers in St. Johns County? Can the restaurant and hospitality industry, teachers, and first responders who work in St. Johns County afford to live in St. Johns County? It is possible for some … but not for all.

St. Johns County’s inventory of single-family homes for sale was 341 as of May 2021, down from 1,393 in May 2020, a decrease of 75.5 percent. The average sales price for the same period was $ 602,816 in May 2021, compared to $ 481,437 in May 2020, an increase of 25.2 percent.

It is widely believed that affordable housing for workers is any home that is available at a cost of no more than $ 200,000. There are very few single-family homes (SFH) that are sold at or below this price point. According to Florida Realtors and State Multiple Listing Services, only 37 SFH were sold under $ 200,000 out of a total of 846 SFH in the second quarter of 2021 (April 1 to June 30).

There are some bright spots: The district commission recently broke ground for San Marcos Heights, a 132-apartment project on 20 State Road, with rents ranging from $ 780 per month for a one-bedroom unit to $ 1,080 for three Bedroom. These prices are well below the market and qualify for affordable housing.

Others who are making a difference include Jerry Folckemer, owner of Old City Homes, LLC, and Bill Lazar, executive director of the St. Johns Housing Partnership.

Folckemer is focused on building affordable workers housing in West St. Augustine, Hastings, Flagler Estates and Elkton. In a recent interview, Folckemer spoke about the shortage of affordable housing for workers in St. Johns County.

“We hear from many of our buyers that they have had difficulty finding an apartment,” he said. “Many of our buyers currently live in Putman or Flagler Counties but work in St. Johns Counties. They can’t afford to live in St. Johns County, so they commute. ”

Active in the housing industry since 1988, Lazar is a state-certified housing builder and has been committed to affordable housing for workers for more than 30 years. He recently spoke about the importance of “not sweeping away the Sadowski Housing Trust Fund in Florida.”

“These monies, given to a community, enable local government to plan and motivate builders to get involved,” said Lazar. “If they can’t count on funding, planning is a pointless exercise.”

A registrar will be present with the St. Augustine & St. Johns County Board of Realtors on Monday, July 12, from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm at 1789 Lakeside Ave., St. Augustine. Members of the public can register to vote and / or make changes to their current voter registration. You will also be able to sign the petition requesting that the proposed change be put to the vote next November.

To learn more, go to HousingFunds4Housing.org.