The Homeless Coalition of St. Johns County has been awarded more than $247,000 in state money toward renovations of 100-year-old homes to serve the homeless. But the organization has another idea.
The coalition hopes it can use the money to build new affordable housing on its campus in St. Augustine.
Debi Redding, the coalition’s executive director, said the need for affordable housing in the county is acute. She did not know precisely how many people need lower-priced housing, but she estimated it’s in the thousands.
“It’s a huge number of people that cannot find affordable housing here, and they either have to make the decision to move outside of our county, to drive in here for work, but if you’re not making enough you usually don’t have a car,” Redding said.
She said the term “affordable housing” means spending no more than 30% of a person’s income on housing. For every 100 people in need of affordable housing, she said, there are only 23 homes available for them in the county.
Some projects have begun in an effort to dent the need. Work started in January on an apartment development in West Augustine that will help low- to moderate-income people find a place to live. And in October, an affordable-housing complex opened along State Road 207 in West Augustine.
Redding said 15 homes on the coalition’s campus on Chapin Street are over 100 years old. She said she has already received money to get started on renovating them, since she couldn’t wait the years it typically takes to receive grant money from the state. Now she is asking the state if it’s possible to use the more than $247,000 for plans to build new housing.
The grant was awarded through the Florida Small Cities Community Development Block Grant program, which helps with workforce housing and public infrastructure developments.
“We have 1.6 buildable acres at the end of our campus. We have been working with the city to get rezoning done and starting to pull permits and to get ready to build on that property,” Redding said.
Redding said her organization wants to build eight duplexes that would house 16 units between 600 and 800 square feet. Each unit would have two to three bedrooms, and the units would cost around $850 a month — much less than the market rate for an average two-bedroom apartment in St. Augustine. The average price for a two-bedroom in St. Augustine is more than $1,600 a month, according to the real estate site rent.com.
The grant money would help only with getting the new housing started. Redding said the total cost of the new housing would be $3 million to $5 million.
If the state won’t allow the homeless coalition to redirect the grant, the money will go toward renovations of 10 homes. Redding said repairs include replacing old plumbing, treating rotted wood and tenting the homes for termites.
She told Jacksonville Today she expects to hear back from the state within the next one to two months. She is hopeful, but she said it’s rare for a grant to be changed from its original purpose.
If you would like to either donate your time or help the homeless coalition of St. Johns County, you can donate on their website.
Lead image: The Homeless Coalition of St. Johns County wants to build more housing on its campus in St. Augustine. l Google