Escambia County launches newest affordable housing project
A groundbreaking ceremony was held Monday for Escambia County’s Infill Affordable Housing Project. The first of four new homes for workforce families will be built on vacant lots in the city of Pensacola on “G” and Gonzalez streets.
“One, two, three,” counts down a county staffer, ahead of the actual groundbreaking, to cheers and applause from the dozens of people in attendance.
“Are we getting paid for this,” asks District 3 Escambia County Commissioner Lumon May, with a laugh.
Clearly, he’s enjoying the moment. For some time, he’s been at the forefront of this affordable housing initiative.
“This is a long-term vision that we had to make this possible. When we look at the gentrification, when we look at the exodus of legacy people from a neighborhood, we thought what would be important.”
With escalating prices, particularly in the urban core, May says providing affordable housing on county-owned “infill” properties is a good place to start.
“The greatest investment we can make today is in the human capital of our citizens, where children will have the opportunity to wake up in a home that they own and their parents can be able to leave it to them generation after generation after generation,” he declared.
“That’s how we address poverty. That’s how we address homelessness. We address it one house at a time, one block at a time and one neighborhood at a time.”
For years, the county has been collecting one vacant lot at a time, at May’s request, holding onto them rather than bowing to pressure to sell.
“Aggressively, when this land began to accelerate, developers came out of the woodworks wanting all of these properties,” he lamented. “And, I took a lot of hits because I said no.”
May says he said “no” because developers were building homes on infill lots that were going for as much as $400,000 to $500,000.
Now, thanks to this partnership between the county, city of Pensacola, and Pensacola Habitat for Humanity, May and his fellow commissioners are able to say “yes” to homes that working families can afford.
“We are serving folks who are at or below 80% of the area median income. For a family of four, that’s about $55 to $56K dollars per year. That’s the max income that a family can have and those are the folks that we’re serving,” explained Crystal Scott with Habitat, which will oversee construction of the initial four homes, all approximately 1,500 square feet, with three bedrooms and two baths and priced between $150,000 and $200,000. The first will go up on the “G” Street property, where the groundbreaking took place.
“We’re in permitting still on three of the lots, but this lot has actually been permitted, so we’re looking to move forward as soon as possible,” Scott said. “We all know that construction prices and material costs are just going up every day, so the sooner, the better.”
Escambia County’s Neighborhood and Human Services Department oversees the Infill Affordable Housing Project. Director Clara Long says they’re planning an educational workshop for April 2 for residents who are interested in applying. Long says it’ll help them see where individuals are in the homeownership process.
“Some may be ready. Some may be partially ready, and some may not be ready at all,” stated Long of the expected applicants. “But, at least, they’ll get connected with the organization to help them, whether it’s a credit score increase, just getting with a lender. It’s just really understanding what it takes to be a homeowner.”
According to Long, the first to be approved will be those who have worked through all those issues, especially with the level of income needed.
“Because we don’t to put anyone in a home that’s not quite financially able,” she said. “Because, with one setback, something can go out and then there you go and you’re having to spend additional funds. As a renter you can call the landlord; here you are the landlord.”
The infill development project was first announced in 2020, but was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. But, Commissioner May says now they’re back on track and ready to get started.
“My goal was to take this land and to build these houses and to reach the goal of 100 houses in the next four years, so this is the beginning,” he said.
As the groundbreaking ceremony was ending, May thanked everyone for coming and looked forward to having them back for the ribbon-cutting for the new homes.