Brevard County took its first formal steps to address the growing problem of affordable housing on the Space Coast.
The Charter Review Commission held its initial of at least three public hearings Thursday night on the housing trust fund for the workforce and vulnerable families, which for the most part, received broad support.
The proposal for the fund was introduced by Jordin Chandler, one of the committee’s members, who said he had been working on the draft for the better part of half a year.
“Affordable housing, to me, is something that has always been important,” he said. “Being born and raised here in Brevard County, being raised by a single mother, who worked two to three jobs to make sure that her three boys had what they needed, and to see her struggle, was always something that empowered me to want to make a difference and a change within this community.”
Chandler’s proposal creates a framework for establishing the trust fund but doesn’t have a dedicated funding stream and leaves many details to the County Commission to decide.
Affordable housing, or for that matter, housing in general, has become a growing concern among the public. Rent and housing prices continue to increase and have skyrocketed in recent years.
Anne Ray of the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies at the University of Florida provided a PowerPoint presentation, stating the Brevard County housing wage, one that a full-time worker would need to earn for a typical 2-bedroom apartment is $20.73 per hour. However, the median wage for the county is only $18.47.
Housing has become such a central issue that Commission Chair Kristine Zonka said, “it is the biggest issue in the community that people, and her patients, have called her about.”
This week, staff from the city of Cocoa agreed to review a proposed ordinance by councilman LaVander Hearn mandating that landlords provide tenants a 60-day notice if their rents increase by more than 5%. They could issue a 30-day notice for month-to-month leases.
Last week, the Brevard Justice Ministry, an advocacy group headed by church and nonprofit leaders, gathered residents who had lost their homes or who were at risk of being homeless to an event to which they had also invited county commissioners. All four board members excused themselves from attending, but Zonka said she was working on the issue, and Commissioner John Tobia had met members of the group privately.
In drafting his charter proposal, Chandler spoke with experts to better understand the issue. He had conversations with staff about the policies and resources already available. He then communicated with officials from other areas in Florida to get a sense of how they are dealing with the problem.
“It really boils down to lack of funding,” Chandler said. “What makes it really challenging here in this county is that we have a charter cap in place.”
Except by supermajority decree from county commissioners, Brevard County is limited in how much additional funding it can receive to allocate to the general fund. According to the charter, taxes can only increase by 3% or the consumer price index, which is tied to inflation.
That leaves few options, according to Chandler, for allocating resources to the issue of affordable housing.
Brevard County does have a dedicated fund in place to provide financial assistance for affordable housing, but without a recurring revenue stream. Money for the fund comes from payment in lieu of taxes.
Chandler’s proposal creates “a continuing, non-lapsing fund for the Brevard County Commission to use to address the need for affordable housing within Brevard County,” to hopefully ensure a steady influx of revenues.
Revenues for the fund can come from several sources. The first is through the budget by order from the commission who can allocate funding on an annual basis. However, municipalities also have the option of offering money to the fund.
Money can also come from private individuals and organizations who want to participate, as well as fees or payments because of residential and commercial development. There is also a stipulation that any unspent money will remain within the housing trust fund.
Commissioners will oversee how the trust fund is subsidized.
Developers who want to apply for financial assistance will submit their application to the housing and human services department, and the selection process will be based on a ranking system among the different applicants.
The proposal also stipulates that any development using money from the trust fund be near other amenities, including mass transit, schools, health services and employment centers.
There were few questions or comments on the proposal — except from fellow committee member Blaise Trettis.
His first concern dealt with language allowing for housing density beyond what is permitted through zoning because of action from staff.
“To me that is democracy being defeated because a government employee determines density and that is it,” Trettis said. “That is a way to ruin a neighborhood because the housing and human services department comes in and says, ‘we are going to let you build 100 units on this 2-acre lot instead of what is zoned now for 20.’”
Chandler said he would return to the commission with a clearer understanding of that section of his proposal.
“I am not seeing a dedicated source of money to this trust fund,” Trettis said.
He claims the proposal provided options for funding the trust fund, but there is no language in the proposal stating the trust fund must be funded.
Chandler disagreed and read from his proposal, “The purpose of the trust fund is to create a continuing, non-lapsing fund for the Brevard County Commission to use to address the need for affordable housing within Brevard County.”
He believes that mandates the County Commission to provide dollars to the fund on a recurring basis.
“It would help everyone digest this a little bit better if you walk through what is currently happening, and how this change would impact and enhance the funding, and to who it would go to,” committee chair Mike Haridopolos said.