Gulf County, as with several other counties in the region impacted by Hurricane Michael, faces something of chicken-and-egg riddle.
Workforce or workforce housing, which comes first?
As local officials attempt to wrap their arms the most pressing issues – luring workers and finding places for them to live, issues before Michael came calling – the Board of County Commissioners took several steps Tuesday.
During a special meeting, the board sought proposals for lands on which to build workforce housing, a waiver to use at least $4 million in state low-income housing funds for workforce housing and approved contractors for rehab projects for the county’s neediest households.
The waiver would allow the county to move a huge portion of its allocation from the state’s hurricane housing program to concentrate on workforce housing, or housing for teachers, first responders, law enforcement and on through the local workforce.
The county’s allocation from the $65 million fund earmarked for Hurricane Michael housing impacts was $5.195 million, the third-highest behind Bay and Jackson counties, said Joe Paul, the county’s administrator of the state housing program.
Of those dollars, 30 percent must be used for very-low income households and 30 percent for low income households.
The county would like to focus on that moderate-income range, the working class, instead of the very-low income housing.
“We don’t want low-income, multi-family housing,” said County Administrator Michael Hammond. “We need moderate, single-family workforce housing.”
Paul noted that the county had already received $760,000 in State Housing Initiative Program (SHIP) dollars to address needs of low-income households, twice the county’s annual allocation.
In turn, the county had been able to assist eight veterans with homes, mobile in most cases, as well as nearly a dozen rehabs remaining to be completed.
So, commissioners approved requesting a waiver to use $4 million of the hurricane housing money in the county’s Disaster Affordable Housing Plan adopted last month.
In turn, the county would hold administrative fees, 10 percent of total grant funding, to under $200,000.
Under the Disaster Affordable Housing Plan, the county hopes to make available to eligible individuals up to $80,000 to be used toward the purchase of a home.
The home could be priced no higher than 90 percent of the average purchase price for a home in that area.
The advertised request for proposals for land acquisition for affordable housing, for example, puts the maximum cost per lot at $39,000, Paul said.
The $80,000 is intended to for down payment assistance or to cover mortgage closing costs, Hammond said, and would be provided by the county on a 10-year, interest-free note.
The county has already applied for $8 million in federal HUD disaster housing funds from a pot of $440 million available for victims of Hurricanes Irma and Michael.
The wait time on a decision those funds is anywhere from six months to two years, Paul said.
Once awarded the dollars, or applying the $4 million in state funds if requirements are waived, the county would move ahead on creating a waiting list for eligible applicants who have no other economic options but have a decent salary and the ability to make mortgage payments.
Eligibility would be based on a set of criteria drafted into the plan such as the current living status, disability, homelessness, income to sustain a mortgage payment and down the line.
Points will be assigned to determine eligibility for assistance; first responders and veterans will earn additional points; adding the emphasis was on a fair and open process.
“In the eyes of the people, we need the process to be open,” said Commissioner Sandy Quinn, Jr.
“However we do it, we do it in the public.”
Paul also noted that some $5 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds were recently approved and would be flowing into the pipeline soon and those dollars will help address workforce housing.
A goal, Commissioner Phil McCroan said, should be increasing homeownership while improving housing options.
“We should press for as many site-built homes as we can get,” McCroan said. “When you build equity in a home that’s a benefit for them (homeowners).”