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City of Pensacola, organizations, discuss affordable housing

Housing
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Work on affordable housing in Pensacola continues, in part, in the discussion stage, as Baptist Hospital considers what to do with its 70-year-old campus. Another player is Habitat for Humanity.

The new Baptist Hospital is scheduled for opening in 2023, and ever since ground was broken at Brent Lane and Interstate 110, one of the main questions has been what to do with the old one on Moreno Street.

“Even if that happens — and it will be incredibly good in a lot of different ways in addressing some different parts of affordable housing — we have other parts that we need to address,” said Mayor Grover Robinson during his news conference on Monday. “And we can do that now; we don’t have to wait.”

In a written statement, Baptist said future opportunities for the Moreno Street campus remain on the table, to be worked out more broadly. A formal announcement, it added, is expected to be made in the next couple of months.

“One of those things is certainly those lots; I saw a presentation by Habitat for Humanity about some things,” the mayor said. “They came and met with us the other day. We’re looking to identify a handful of lots for them; and a handful of lots for ourselves.”

Specific areas being studied by the city are in both the eastside and westside community redevelopment zones, where the mayor says are a number of lots on which to build housing, with the involvement of Habitat.

“I think the challenge is that we’re experienced with Habitat, and we had this frank discussion with them with the style of home they had before,” said Robinson. “But I think what they have created now — they have incredible new designs that actually match what our [building] code is, and workable and still affordable to build.”

“I had a list of all the lots that the county owned inside the city of Pensacola; and [the mayor] asked if I would identify 15 to 20 that he thought would be right for affordable housing,” said Sam Young, the CEO at Habitat for Humanity in Pensacola.

Meanwhile, work is underway on four county-owned lots inside the “overlay” district that includes both county and city territory. And those houses, said Young, are not your grandfather’s Habitat home.

“The overlay district had some new and fairly stringent requirements that we needed to comply with,” Young said. “So those homes are actually even a little more upgraded than our typical home. They required more glazing, more windows, bigger porches, [and] 9-foot ceilings on the first floor.”

COVID-19, Young concedes, has had an impact on Habitat projects. But he adds that answering such a question requires a somewhat complicated answer.

“Fiscal year 2021, that ended last June 30, we had built and closed on 27 homes; fiscal year ’22, which will end this June 30, we are on track to do 53 to 55 homes,” said Young. “Our production has actually doubled over the last year.”

That’s the good news, said Young.

“The bad news is we are, like every other builder, dealing with supply chain issues, with escalating costs, and the labor,” he said. “Not necessarily on our staff, but for the subcontractors. Labor is an increasing difficulty for us; we’re putting more families in homes, but we’re doing it at a higher cost than we would like to do.”

Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson is looking forward to not only working with various organizations, but also rolling out some housing ideas from the city.

“Using outside individuals, but also doing some of our own things and building some of our own relationships,” he said. “It’s not just about the housing, it’s about getting the skills as well, and looking at some things. I think there are just going to be things that we’ve never done in the past — it doesn’t mean whether they’re right or wrong. We are interesting in finding new opportunities even if they’ve never been tried before.”

Information on applying for a Habitat for Humanity home, such as eligibility requirements, can be found at pensacolahabitat.org.