This space will become home to Villages of New Augustine, an affordable housing development in St. Johns County. | Will Brown, Jacksonville TodayThis space will become home to Villages of New Augustine, an affordable housing development in St. Johns County. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today
This space will become home to Villages of New Augustine, an affordable housing development in St. Johns County. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

Affordable rental homes called critical in West Augustine

Published on January 8, 2024 at 1:24 pm

An apartment development in West Augustine is expected to chip away at a shortage of affordable housing that is leaving many low- and moderate-income people with nowhere to live in booming St. Johns County.

Ability Housing, the West Augustine Historical Community Development Corp. and others are scheduled to break ground Wednesday on a 92-unit apartment community just west of busy U.S. 1 and West King Street.

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When it opens in about 18 months, the Villages of St. Augustine will offer reduced rents to households earning up to 60% of the area median income.

Rising rents in the county have left many tourism workers, government employees and health care personnel struggling to find housing near their jobs.

“The St. Johns County Housing Finance Authority knows that an attainable workforce and affordable housing are critical to a stable and vital economy for St. Johns County,” said Priscilla Howard, head of the agency. “It is important that the residents of St. Johns County can live where they work.”

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Without developments like this one, the first that Ability Housing is doing in St. Johns County, people who work in the city will have no place to live, said Ability Housing President Shannon Nazworth.

“The housing market has gone so crazy in the last couple of years, with so many people moving into the area, St. Johns County, specifically, blooming so much over the last decade,” Nazworth said. “Plus, investors came in and snatched up properties, jacking up rents as high as they can go. All those forces combined just make it very very hard for average working people to afford a place to live.”

An illustration shows the planned Villages of New Augustine on North Volusia Street. | Ability Housing

The Villages of New Augustine will be built at 195 N. Volusia St., just north of West King Street and near a Dollar General store and the St. Johns Police Athletic League.

The cheapest one-bedroom unit with a single bathroom will rent for $456 per month, depending on a person’s income. The most expensive — three bedrooms and two bathrooms — will go for $1,230 per month.

The units will be targeted at households mostly made up of one or two wage-earners, although some apartments will be set aside for people who have special needs or are exiting homelessness, Nazworth said. Future residents probably will include local restaurant or bar employees or someone working a tech job at a hospital or as a civilian police or fire employee — “the people we need in our lives every day,” she said.

“The location of this really is perfect for a myriad of reasons,” Nazworth said. “The easy access to major employment areas within St. Johns County is definitely one of them.”

Based on a University of North Florida report issued last year, more than 4,000 low-income households — St. Johns County residents who earn 60% of area median income or less — are paying more than 40% of their income on housing, Nazworth said.

“That’s just the households that are under 60% area median income,” Nazworth said. “We know that there are many families earning more than that who are struggling to afford rental housing in St. Johns County.”

Howard said the 92 units will help whittle down the more than 7,000 units needed in the county, as reported by the County Commission.

The county needs a comprehensive strategy to address the issue, Nazworth said.

“Otherwise, the tourism industry will be losing workers; the county and city will be losing essential personnel; the hospitals will be stretched,” Nazworth said. People who have moved out of the county may decide to work closer to their new home, she said.

Ability Housing started in 1992 as a group home for adults with developmental disabilities. It now develops affordable multifamily housing in Duval, Orange and Osceola counties, serving low-income households.

The county’s Housing Finance Authority was established to help alleviate a shortage of affordable housing facilities and to provide capital for investment in such facilities for low, moderate and middle income families in St. Johns County. 

Ability partnered with WAHCDC, a local nonprofit group that found the 6.5-acre site. Ability bought the site in part using low-income tax credits through the state. The project will cost about $25 million, with four apartment buildings and a community center that will have a library, community event space, a computer lab and on-site leasing offices, plus a pavilion, playground and walking trail.

“Although they won’t come online for 18 months, the management company will begin taking applications, and it is a relief just knowing you and/or your family will have a safe and affordable unit in the near future,” Howard said. “Yes, it will spur other housing. However, the need is more than the funding available through public sources.  This is why we have to create public-private partnerships in hopes of more private dollars going toward this effort.”

Nazworth does not expect people to have reservations about West Augustine and the social and economic issues that have hampered economic development there. Image issues may not factor into the desire of someone needing or wanting new, affordable rental housing,” she said.

“First and foremost, the reason we undertook this project was a partnership with WAHCDC is that it’s a neighborhood nonprofit that’s been working to revitalize West Augustine,” Nazworth said. “It is starting to gentrify right now, and this housing will allow people who grew up in that neighborhood to be able to afford to stay in that neighborhood. They have a comprehensive vision and strategy for the West Augustine community, and creating housing was on part of that.”

author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 email Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.

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