After wrestling with options for the process over nearly a month, the Board of County Commissioners arrived at a solution: equal division.
During a special meeting last week, commissioners approved strategies for spending the first significant chunk of disaster housing dollars the county will receive.
Instead of a point system for determining eligibility, instead of partnering, at least for now, with an outside agency to administer the funds, commissioners sliced the pie equally among their districts.
They also extended the application deadline for applications through the local State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) program through the end of the month.
During a board meeting in October, there will be a random drawing of applications, which will have already been divided by district and reviewed for eligibility.
In addition, commissioners approved a tweak to eligibility requirements that would allow those already carrying SHIP loans would still be eligible for funding if within the very-low household income category.
“This is one the most (sensible) processes I have seen since I have been in office,” said Commissioner Ward McDaniel. “It is very simple.”
The strategies apply to $5.941 million coming through Florida Housing under the Hurricane Housing Recovery Plan.
This is not the county’s previously-established Disaster Assistance Plan which would aim to provide downpayment assistance for more than 100 homes.
The county has applied for $8 million to fund that plan; the money is not likely until, at the earliest, the second half of 2020.
Additionally, the county would expect in the coming few years to receive Community Development Block Grant funding to address the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, including housing, especially workforce housing.
As for the nearly $6 million to come this fall under the Hurricane Housing Recovery Plan, the county unsuccessfully requested Florida Housing to allow a change in how the money was spent.
Under existing rules governing SHIP, the county must spend 30 percent of the funds on very-low incomes households and 30 percent for low-income households; the remainder would be directed to moderate-income households.
The county had hoped to use $4 million of the nearly $6 million in the moderate-income category to improve workforce housing options; the request was denied.
In addition, commissioners earlier approved a point system crafted by staff and separate from SHIP eligibility requirements to provide the template for disbursing the HHRP money.
But, as applications piled in during recent workshops, nearly 500 with a significant percentage seeking purchase assistance, and the need and stakes quantified, Commission chair Sandy Quinn, Jr., who repeatedly urged a fair, transparent process, became less thrilled about the points system.
“People are pointing fingers already,” Quinn said. “I am just not sure about this points system.”
McCroan also expressed concerns.
Commissioners last week adopted those SHIP percentages, 30, 30 and 40, into their plan while also deciding to toss out the point system and provide at least $1 million to each individual district.
At the very-low income category, the money will be used to provide grants of up to $20,000 for home rehab or up to $40,000 as assistance if the individual is purchasing a trailer or modular home.
Within the low-income category, rehab dollars up to $25,000 or up to $50,000 in downpayment assistance would be available with a 10-year SHIP mortgage.
And in the moderate-income category, downpayment assistance of up to $60,000 or 50 percent of the required downpayment, whichever is less, would be available, again with a SHIP mortgage.
Eligibility under SHIP guidelines, and therefore a completed application submitted before the end of the month, is required.
“This is the fairest way I’ve seen for this,” said Commissioner Phil McCroan. “This is a great plan and it spreads (the money) across the county.”
And, as Quinn noted, the county will soon have the funds.
A question that will surely arise is who actually will perform the work the dollars are meant to provide.
The county has a half dozen or so contractors approved under SHIP, but as was plain during a Housing Fair held last Saturday at the Centennial Building, scheduling a contractor is likely to become an issue.
Local contractors are booked for months, even years, into the future and even homeowners with the resources can not find contractors.
“I am concerned that this problem will severely hamper and slow down the recovery and rebuild of Port St. Joe,” said Dannie Bolden with the North Port St. Joe Project Area Coalition, which hosted the fair.
Local SHIP administrator Joe Paul said Florida Housing has a Homeownership Pool (HOP) program which would offer incentives, for contractors that are members, in providing assistance to eligible homebuyers in the low and very-low income categories.
Paul urged local contractors to become members of HOP.