The Paces Foundation, which operates out of Smyrna, Ga. went before Port St. Joe city commissioners to present plans to build 50-70 single family apartment homes to create affordable housing in North Port St. Joe.
The need for such housing was spearheaded for months by County Commissioner Tan Smiley and during the Wednesday workshop, Paces President Mark du Mas detailed the plans for a parcel of city-owned land off of Clifford Sims Road.
Paces would pay for the community using a tax credit program that would require the foundation to go to Tallahassee to compete for housing credits. Once awarded, Paces sells those credits to banks in order to fund their communities. After 15 years, ownership of the housing communities reverts to Paces can be sold to residents interested in purchasing their homes. During the 15-year period, the communities can be expanded based on the needs of Port St. Joe.
Paces recently opened the Panama Commons community which received a LEED Platinum status from the U.S. Green Building Council, the highest housing status in the panhandle, in energy efficiency. The Panama City community is a four-story, family-oriented apartment building that features high-efficiency plumbing fixtures and appliances, close proximity to public transit, and drought-tolerant trees and shrubs and Paces aims to bring these same efficiencies to Port St. Joe.
Ron Thomasson, President of Accrue Planning in Panama City, is a consultant for Paces and has a certification in land use, housing and economic development.
“We can’t do anything without the community’s support,” he said. “There are benefits other than affordable housing.”
Thomasson explained that the land in North Port St. Joe was chosen due to the location being close to the Commerce Park and can act as a gateway as new jobs are created with the opening of the Port.
Residents have the potential to walk to the industrial sites and green technology will save costs on utilities making more funds available to be spent locally.
According to the foundation’s plan, the city would deed the land to Pace after all grants necessary to build were approved, a process that would take approximately one year.
City attorney Tom Gibson said that the project may face potential issues if the number of homes on the parcel climbed above 100 due to zoning restrictions. The parcel is currently zoned as R1 which allows for a maximum of five units per acre.
“That is sufficient for phase one,” said Thomasson.
Rick Haymond, a development associate with Paces, showed off past projects completed in the panhandle as well as Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and South Carolina.
Each community includes a swimming pool, computer lab, fitness center, picnic area, playground and outside grills. All properties are professionally managed by Royal American Hospitality out of Panama City. Contractors for projects are hired third party vendors.
“The market is strong enough to make this project work,” said Haymond.
Projected rent levels for the units will start at $419 a month for two bedroom homes, $468 for three bedrooms and $508 for four.
Rent will be calculated according to the occupant’s income and budget. Potential renters will also be required to undergo a credit and background check, though occupant decisions will not be made solely from the results.
Mayor Mel Magidson was supportive of the idea, but wanted some time to factor the latest city budget numbers to his decision.
“It’s a great project,” said the mayor. “We need it.”
Though the project will cost the city $2,500 to get the paperwork and grant process started, Magidson asked city manager Jim Anderson to work with Gibson to ensure that the paperwork didn’t call for any additional out of pocket costs.
Once the contracts had been explored by the city, a vote could be held at future official meeting.
The Housing Credit program is governed by the U.S. Department of Treasury and awards each state an allocation based on the per capita amount of $1.75 times the state population plus the state's share of the national pool annually.
Since its inception in 1987, Florida Housing's Credit program has allocated $201 million in credits toward the production of more than 53,000 affordable rental units across the state.
The mission of the Pace Foundation, a not-for-profit, is to provide affordable housing to communities in need.
The groupis not underwritten by a large corporation and is not faith-based. The development fees that they collect on each project are rolled over to the next project.
“We’re here because we made a successful development fee somewhere else,” said Mark du Mas, president of Paces. “We’re a tool in your toolbox.”
Numbers presented showed Paces’ ability to find grants and tax credits to build their properties and boasted $300 million in collected tax credits, $22 million in home loan funds and $5 million in Affordable Housing Program loan and grant funds since the group became incorporated in 1991.
The foundation is also part of the Community Housing Development Organization which requires a third of their board to be low-income residents from within their communities.
The foundation is ready to break ground on a 92-unit senior housing community in Pensacola and a 26-unit community for the mentally ill in Covington, Ga.