A shot in the dark turned into a bit of needed light for a project to bring affordable housing to Gulf County.
Mark Du Mas, president and founder of The PACES Foundation, informed the Board of County Commissioners Tuesday that an application for loan dollars to construct affordable housing had been approved by the governor’s office.
The Gulf County project was one of just four that received federal HOME funds.
The award was $5.5 million and will be used to build 50 townhouse type units on a 40-acre parcel in the city of Port St. Joe off Clifford Sims Road.
The funds are distributed to the states by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, after lobbying from the Legislature’s small county caucus, recommended that the state’s allotment be prioritized for projects to bring affordable housing to smaller, more rural counties, Du Mas said.
Du Mas noted that in the past more than 90 percent of Florida housing funds end up in larger counties such as Orange, Miami-Dade, Broward and Duval.
The PACES Foundation made an application roughly two years ago to secure housing tax credits it would leverage for funding in the private market to underwrite building more than 75 affordable housing units.
The city of Port St. Joe amended the zoning of the 40-acre parcel to accommodate affordable housing, but the foundation fell short in the lottery system used to distribute the housing tax credits.
Du Mas said the foundation would continue to pursue the tax credits, but the HOME dollars allowed the foundation to move ahead on an initial 50 units in Gulf County.
“This is just phase one,” said Ron Thomasson out of Panama City who is working with the Smyrna, GA foundation as a planner. “PACES has made a long-term commitment to the community.”
The application was completed with assistance from the BOCC, which voted to provide $350,000 in State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) program funds as a local match for the low interest loan – Du Mas said ultimately the loan would come at no cost to PACES.
“The governor wanted some local skin in the game and (the BOCC) stepped up,” Du Mas said.
The foundation’s application will now be reviewed by a third-party underwriter to determine the project and foundation are viable. In the meantime, Du Mas said, the foundation would move ahead on design and permitting.
The project would mean the construction of 50 two-, three- and four-bedroom units carrying rents from $450 to $650.
“Those are incredibly affordable rents,” Du Mas said.
The units would be specifically targeted to those earning under $30,000 a year.
“That provides the working folks with long-term affordable housing,” he added.
After 15 years the state will determine whether renters will be provided an option to purchase.
Other PACES developments, constructed through tax credit financing, typically carried a 15-year term after which renters could buy the units they were renting. Du Mas said in this instance the final word would be up to state officials.
Du Mas said the hope is to begin work on the complex within four to six months with the first units available roughly six months after that.
“By the start of the school year next year through, say, Halloween, we will be hoping to open the doors to those units,” Du Mas said. “We are confident we will begin building once (permitting, etc.) was done.”
Commissioner Tan Smiley, who has worked through the processes with the PACES Foundation, said the housing project was crucial. He said companies considering locating to Gulf County expressed concern about housing for workers.
“I think we’ve covered the first step toward bringing jobs to the county,” Smiley said.
Gulf Coast Parkway
Voices apparently carried from Gulf County to the Florida Department of Transportation.
Included in the information packet for Tuesday’s meeting was a letter from FDOT officials indicating they had acted on concerns out of Gulf County over the agency-identified preferred alternative for the Gulf Coast Parkway.
County officials contended that public meetings on the parkway held earlier this year showed officials leaning toward a route that would benefit Bay County but had few of the ingredients critical to Gulf County, such as quicker and more direct access to U.S. 231 and an overland shipping link to the Port of Port St. Joe.
State officials have identified another alternative that would meet the Bay and Gulf County interests, said Commissioner Warren Yeager and had taken that to federal highway officials for approval.
If approved on the federal level, the alternative would go before the public.