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Pensacola Mayor and Habitat for Humanity are working together on affordable housing in Pensacola

Volunteers work on a home build for Pensacola Habitat for Humanity.
Pensacola Habitat for Humanity
Volunteers work on a home build for Pensacola Habitat for Humanity.

In his weekly news conference Monday morning, Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson spent the majority of his time on developing affordable housing.

The city’s focus on affordable housing, Robinson said, is to work with Habitat for Humanity and look at other projects, such as the old Baptist Hospital, that could create more affordable housing.

Sam Young, president and CEO of Pensacola’s Habitat for Humanity, says his organization is ready to partner with the city.

“Find affordable land, build a high-quality affordable home, and sell it to our homeowners,” Young said in response to Robinson's news conference. “We have had conversations with the city and the mayor specifically about a partnership where they use either city-owned land or to acquire county-owned inside the city.”

Habitat entered into an agreement last year to sell property it owned at D and Jackson streets, after buying it nine years earlier for $10 from theFlorida Housing Authority. Young says the original idea was to build affordable housing on 12 lots at the site.

“What happened was, when we started investigating putting some Pensacola Habitat homes on there, we realized that the infrastructure cost necessary to do the build, and comply with the city’s [community redevelopment area] was going to get pretty expensive,” he said.

Habitat sold the lots to a private individual, who then sold them to a local developer, Merrill Land Company. It was then, says Young, that they hit the jackpot with lots in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.

“And we thought that, before we make that commitment, we should find out what the market value of that land was,” said Young. “And we were surprised that we could leverage the value of that land that was going to put 12 homes out there as affordable — we, in fact, were able to buy 39 lots. And the resulting decision was best for the community.”

The original dozen lots have been cleared as Robinson and other city officials continue the search for suitable properties.

“We have been asked to look at the possibilities to use some land for affordable housing; nothing’s set one way or the other but we are looking to see what we could do,” the mayor said. “If anything comes forward that would be more concrete, we will look at it. I think it’s something we’ve got to look at.”

Habitat officials say the sale has enabled them to focus on building more than a dozen homes on less expensive areas in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Robinson says they’re familiar with that area, but were beaten to the punch.

“So at this point, it was already in private hands, so we couldn’t do anything about it,” he said. “We are involved very much in trying to figure out how to get affordable housing.”

Meanwhile, the mayor says the city is looking at how to take properties and turn them into affordable housing.

“We’ve got a number of things happening on smaller lots for single-family detached housing, and I think you’re going to continue to see us push those properties that we can get from the county, and begin that process. We would also look with Habitat but we would like them to build here.”

There were some issues with Habitat right after the city rolled out its housing overlay regarding affordability, Robinson said, but he adds that they have been resolved.

“I hope we have suitable models and designs that fit your overlay and can be put in there," Robinson said. " In my discussions and talking with Sam, I believe we have that going forward.”

As Robinson prepares to leave office at the end of this year, Habitat’s Young is hoping the next mayor continues the work on affordable housing.

“Mayor Robinson has been a visionary with regard to his commitment to affordable housing, and I think he’s going to have a lot of good programs that are going to be in some stage of progress,” Young said. “And I’m very hopeful that whoever assumes leadership continues down that path. We will, with open arms, welcome whoever that is, and hopefully, we will continue on in this partnership.”