The Board of County Commissioners’ efforts to address what they believe to be the county’s most pressing problem, workforce housing, was buffeted by headwind last week.
The Florida Housing Finance Corporation declined a county request to alter the formula for using disaster housing funds coming through the State Housing Initiative Program (SHIP) for housing relief.
In effect, the county wanted to flip the percentages of division for the money, $5.915 million, coming through the Hurricane Michael Disaster Assistance Plan to earmark the bulk of the funds for moderate income households.
The state disaster money, however, arrived attached to the same strings as all SHIP funds, with 60 percent earmarked for low and very-low income households.
In effect, the county wanted to use $1.7-$1.8 million for low and very-low income housing and $4 million for workforce housing.
“It is very disappointing,” said County Administrator Michael Hammond said last week during a special BOCC meeting. “But I am not surprised given the direction things were going.
“I don’t think they (Florida Housing) reflect Gulf County, reflect Gulf County values. I want to build houses. I know (commissioners) want to build houses.”
Further, if the existing guidelines are not waived, the amount of money for one project is capped at roughly half what the county hoped.
Additionally, under SHIP guidelines, many members of the workforce would still earn too high of an income to qualify for funding under moderate-income criteria, Paul noted.
Commissioners debated whether to, as Hammond suggested, request a sit-down among state representatives and Florida Housing and county officials to fully explain the county’s position and seek a compromise.
On the other hand, Joe Paul, the county administrator for SHIP, said time was of the essence.
He encouraged commissioners to move ahead with the SHIP process; advertising will begin this week.
Eligibility workshops won’t be held until applications are available well into September; the funds will not be available until October, Paul said.
That will provide sufficient time for the county to seek a waiver of the guidelines and adjust if any is received.
“Time is critical to the people who need homes,” Paul said. “I really want to get started. Any sit-down needs to be as expedient as possible.”
Since newspaper coverage of the county’s housing plans have been announced, there has been an uptick in inquiries to the SHIP office, Paul said.
His office has a list of nearly 50 people who could qualify for SHIP funding today.
A fulcrum for the dynamics at work in the county is that the state disaster dollars are likely to be the extent of upstream funding for housing in the short-term.
The county has a proposed disaster housing plan and is seeking some $8 million in funding under its Disaster Assistance Plan, but that money is not likely to flow until at least sometime in 2020.
To provide some context: this week, the state announced that $633 million in Community Development Block Grants from the U.S. Department of Housing Urban Development had been disbursed.
Those dollars address housing problems from hurricanes Irma, Matthew and Hermine; the latter two storms were in 2016.
Therefore, county officials hoped to use the state disaster housing funds to begin facilitating its local housing plan.
The goal for the county is to create housing, and Paul said he is exploring a wide array of options, affordable to the vast majority of the workforce, aiming to keep construction costs at $100-$125 per square foot with mortgage payments at or below $1,000.
In very short strokes, the county hopes to leverage the $8 million it is seeking for its disaster housing plan into 100 homes, $80,000 as downpayment assistance at a time.
The county’s plan also provides a mechanism by which the purchase of land would be bundled with the purchase of a home.
That, the county believes, would create the housing for essential elements of the workforce; law enforcement, first responders, teachers, nurses, etc.
The county, to ensure fairness in implementing projects with the state disaster money, Paul said his office would employ the same point system detailed in the county’s disaster housing plan.
That, he said, would help the county better identify and prioritize housing needs.