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Affordable housing crisis at an “epic” level

By on March 11, 2021 0

The problem with many affordable housing ventures is that they don’t actually make homes cheaper, they just find new ways to put people in homes they can’t afford, according to a nationally renowned urban planner.

Chuck Marohn, founder of the non-profit organization Strong Towns, said the American housing system has a rigid structure built around putting people on 30-year mortgages. He said that as a society we find creative ways to help people stretch their finances to qualify for home equity loans – subsidies, subsidies and artificially reduced interest rates – but we don’t do much to make the cost of housing within reach.

“The limit to getting in is that you have to be able to qualify for a 30-year mortgage,” said Marohn. “This means you must have a credit score of 720 or higher. This means you must have a 40 hour job per week and you have had that job for the past two years. This means you must have a positive credit card history. You have all these barriers, but that’s what you have to do to play. What I’m saying is there are a lot of people who can’t play that game. “

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Marohn and a group of local experts discussed the housing continuum in our area and what we can do to increase it on Wednesday during a Pensacola Habitat for Humanity Virtual Housing Summit. The event was attended by representatives from a variety of local organizations, including 90 Works, the Area Housing Commission and members of the City of Pensacola Affordable Housing Task Force.

The event’s keynote speaker, Marohn, said one of the key things communities can do to improve their housing stock is to create housing options beyond simple suburban single-family homes and sprawling apartment complexes.

Shown on Monday, June 15, 2020, a vacant lot on the corner of North F Street and West Gonzalez Street was announced on Monday June 15, 2020 as part of a housing initiative that includes four county-owned lots close to each other. currently set to have an affordable single family home built on the property.

“A couple of the fastest things I think you can do to start that process is go towards ancillary apartments, ancillary housing units: basically allowing people to convert their garages into a home, convert their basement to a duplex unit. Allow people more flexibility to take the next step in creating wealth and value in their home, ”said Marohn.

He said that a century ago, what we would now call “tiny houses” were only called starting houses. Young families started in residences of 500, 600, or 700 square feet, then added rooms and stories as their families and salaries grew.

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Marohn said ideally a homeowner should be able to enter the city hall with a request to make a reasonable addition to their home and leave with a permit on the same day. Marohn said the reality is that most communities have complex networks of regulations and ordinances that prevent natural and incremental growth and change in neighborhoods and that we have created a cumbersome and restrictive housing system that has proven unsustainable.

“We are now at epic proportions of nationwide inaccessibility in terms of housing and we have created a very tenuous situation for ourselves,” said Marohn.

Abe Singh, executive director of the local Area Housing Commission, said there are currently around 721 active public housing units in our community. Singh said there are nearly 900 people and families on the waiting list for housing, with Singh estimating their waiting time would be around two years.

He said most of that population is single mothers with children, and many of them have a hard time moving into home ownership because most of their money goes to daily needs. He added that many working-class families are on a similar boat since the average salary in our area is not enough to cover the cost of the house at an average price in the area.

Marcie Whitaker, the director of housing in the city of Pensacola, said, “A lot of people in our community don’t have a big income. So when an average home in our community is nearly $ 200,000, it’s really out of the price range (for ) for most people. For low income families, the range you are talking about is between $ 125,000 and $ 130,000 and for moderate income families you are talking about something around $ 190,000, so obviously we need us to deal with it. “

Whitaker is part of the the city’s affordable housing task force, an idea that councilor Jewel Cannada-Wynn brought to the table with a goal to create 500 new homes at affordable prices over the next five years.

Some of approaching the task force is investigating include the redevelopment of city-owned plots such as abandoned businesses and underutilized portions of parks and car parks; collaborate with private builders for the development of the tax credit; and the expansion of existing single-family units into multi-family houses.

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Cannada-Wynn said the hope is that the city and a network of partners can get started by simply providing more options, and those options will create opportunities for families.

“Now, there are very few opportunities available,” he said. “There are very few affordable homes. The market determines that price. You have this high demand, and therefore high demand drives prices up. An infusion of cheaper housing and an infusion of more rental units, you would hope it would reduce. those prices “.

The Affordable Housing Task Force is expected to present a final report on August 27 that will outline recommended steps for action.

The Pensacola Habitat Annual Summit is intended to be a platform for all local stakeholders to come together and share ideas on how we can make safe and affordable housing a reality for everyone in the community. This year, the organization celebrated the construction of its 1400th home since its founding in 1981.

Kevin Robinson can be reached at [email protected] or 850-435-8527.

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