By JENNA BAILEY
In 2017 and 2018, the DeFuniak Springs Herald-Beach Breeze published the articles “Affordable Housing Shortage in Walton County” and “Landlords: What to expect when listing with HUD.” These articles regarded the lack of affordable homes available for those on the Urban Housing and Development (HUD) Section 8 program waiting list in Walton County.
For 2019, the Herald decided to check in with Executive Housing Director Tom Baker for the north walton HUD Section 8 office in DeFuniak Springs for updates on the housing shortage. Some positive news, Baker informed that the number of applicants on the waiting list locally is 50 applicants and an additional 50 applicants outside of Walton County applying to live in north Walton. This is a 200-applicant decrease since 2017 where there were 300 applicants on the waiting list. In total there are 322 families actively in the HUD Section 8 program in Walton County currently.
Some progress for the program since 2018, Walton County HUD has received a grant for 19 vouchers for individuals in the county who are non-elderly (ages 65 and under) and disabled. “We have some of those vouchers available,” said Baker. “We’re working with the Homeless Coalition and some other people to try to find these people who are disabled and try to get them housed. So that’s a change from what we had a year ago. It’s going to be a real help to people who struggle, who are disabled, to find a home.”
Baker went on to speak on the homeless population and employment rates since 2018. “We know the homeless situation and the people who are needing assistance has not decreased. They’re there and whether they were living with someone else or found another accommodation, sometimes it gets to be such a hassle that they find another way to do this.”
Baker stated that the unemployment rate in the county has gone down by 2.5 percent since last year. As for housing development, Baker informed that there is development coming to Orange Avenue that will have fifty units. There will be 50 units, 8 three-bedroom units, 32 two-bedroom units, and 10 one-bedroom units. “That should be available to the public sometime between now and the first of next year. They’re clearing the land right now to build those.” It has yet to be specified who will be housed in the units.
Recent events that will have a massive impact on affordable housing for the state of Florida will come from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ Bold Vision for a Bright Future (BVBF) vision. Gov. DeSantis’ BVBF plan for transportation and economic development covers issues such as hurricane recovery/emergency management; Dept. of Economic Opportunity; Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; ensuring housing availability for working families; infrastructure/workforce; increased employment through rapid development of a skilled workforce and improved infrastructure for key priorities; maintaining a foundational industry; and ensuring fair and free elections.
The BVBF budget provides $338.4 million to fully fund Workforce and Affordable Housing Programs. Full funding of the program has not occurred in over a decade, since FY 2007-2008. This amount includes $95.4 million for the State Apartment Incentive Loan (SAIL) Program and $242.9 million for the State Housing Initiative Partnership (SHIP) Program. Both programs are administered by the Florida Housing Finance Corporation (FHFC), from a portion of the revenues received from documentary stamp taxes on real estate transfers.
The SAIL Program, funded by the State Housing Trust Fund, provides low-interest loans on a competitive basis to developers of affordable rental housing. SAIL funds serve to bridge the gap between development primary financing and the total cost of the development, which allows developers to obtain the full financing needed to construct or rehabilitate affordable multifamily units.
The SHIP Program, funded by the Local Government Housing Trust Fund, provides funds to local governments on a population-based formula as an incentive to produce and preserve affordable housing for very low, low, and moderate-income families. SHIP funds are distributed on an entitlement basis to all 67 counties and to 52 Community Development Block Grant entitlement cities in Florida. SHIP funds may be used to fund emergency repairs, new construction, rehabilitation, down payment and closing cost assistance, impact fees, construction and gap financing, mortgage buy-downs, acquisitions of property for affordable housing, matching dollars for federal housing grants and programs, and homeownership counseling.
An in-depth look at Governor DeSantis Bold Vision for a Bright Future can be found at http://www.boldvisionforabrighterfuture.com/