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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Jan. 16, 200712:00 PM EST

Affordable housing a challenge for City

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by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

One of the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission’s Downtown task forces was charged with finding ways to increase the population in the urban core. It’s a given that in order to revitalize Downtown with stores, restaurants, clubs and entertainment, there has to be a “critical mass” of residents who will shop, eat, drink and applaud.

There is an aggressive effort to tap into the resident base that would like to live Downtown but can’t afford to purchase luxurious, riverfront high-rise condominiums or pay the four-figure rent bill each month for a studio or a small one-bedroom apartment.

That’s one zip code. What about the other 98 percent of Duval County and its citizens?

The Jacksonville Housing Commission has published a report on affordable and workforce housing that describes the challenges confronted by people like teachers and police officers who make $35,000 or less per year in an entry-level position and have difficulty passing the $50,000 annual income level even after years on the job. They earn more money than low-income individuals typically thought to benefit from affordable housing programs, but as the report points out, “more people and more workers at higher income levels are unable to afford housing.”

The report includes data compiled by the University of Florida’s Shimberg Center for Affordable Housing. According to 2005 figures, more than 81,000 households in Duval County paid more than 30 percent of their income for housing cost. More than 50,000 households devoted more than 50 percent of their income for housing cost.

A household is considered to be “cost burdened” when more than 30 percent of its income goes to housing cost, either rent or mortgage payment, taxes and insurance.

“It’s a striking contrast,” said Wight Greger, deputy director of the Housing & Neighborhoods Department. “Incomes are not keeping up with housing costs.”

The cost of housing and increases in that cost have been out-pacing increases in wages for years.

According to the Florida Association of Realtors, the median sales price for a single-family home in Duval County in May 2006 was $200,000 – a 17 percent jump compared to the year before. In the five-year period that ended in December 2005, home prices in the county went up more than 76 percent while family incomes in Jacksonville increased by only 3 percent per year in the same period.

“We’ve been watching the gap closely,” said Greger. “It has been pretty scary stuff for the past two years, but now it’s slowing down. I think we’re past the pinnacle of real estate inflation.”

Greger also said no matter what the future holds for affordable housing, she thinks Jacksonville is in an enviable situation for several reasons.

“We’re fortunate to have lots of resources and opportunities other cities in Florida don’t have,” she said. “No other city government in the state is consolidated. That gives us an advantage because all the funds – about $15 million this year in federal and state money – flow through this office (Housing & Neighborhoods). And we don’t just do something with it, we leverage it.

“We also still have land that’s usable and buildable, something they don’t have in South Florida. We also have a huge pool of talented contractors and builders.”

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