Getting Jacksonville’s share of Florida’s $1 billion piece of a $16.65 billion settlement reached between the federal government and Bank of America over unacceptable mortgage practices is the motivation for formation of a new nonprofit.
A steering committee was formed Monday to guide the establishment of JAX HOPE (Home Ownership Property Exchange), which will help transform abandoned properties in Duval County into transitional housing for homeless people and veterans.
The financial industry, for-profit and not-for-profit builders, veterans’ organizations, social service agencies and the legal and real estate professions are represented on the committee.
Described as an “umbrella organization” by City Council member Bill Gulliford, the initial purpose of Jax HOPE will be to secure funding to transition abandoned properties out of legal limbo and into the hands of the private sector for development and to create housing for people who need it as an alternative to demolishing abandoned properties.
“I don’t think you improve a neighborhood by tearing a house down,” said Gulliford.
The city is in the process of identifying the inventory of abandoned properties, which may number more than 10,000, across the city.
“This is not just a northwest quadrant issue. It is a citywide issue and it needs citywide attention,” Gulliford said.
By having a plan to preserve properties that might otherwise remain unused or destroyed, the city could be in the position to
tap into some of the settlement funds, or even qualify for other federal and state housing programs, said council member Greg Anderson.
He said one of the first steps will be to clearly define what makes a property “abandoned.” Some properties are unoccupied due to foreclosure.
Some are vacant with property taxes in arrears.
Cindy Funkhouser, president and CEO of the Sulzbacher Center, said the effort could lead to more transitional housing for homeless families if houses could be renovated and made available for rent at affordable rates.
“Florida has 25 percent of the homeless families in America,” she said. “Our goal is to move people into permanent housing, but they need transitional housing. They can pay rent, but they can’t pay market rent.”
Gulliford said the idea for the new organization started when he was contacted by real estate consultant Jim Satterwhite.
He said Jax HOPE can be a “conduit to procure opportunities” by identifying abandoned properties suitable for renovation, acquiring the properties and making them ready to be lived in again.
Another possibility would be to acquire abandoned single-family homes and vacant lots and allowing organizations such as HabiJax, the local Habitat
for Humanity affiliate, to facilitate starter homes and then provide mentoring to ensure new homeowners retain their property.
“We want to energize the entire community,” Gulliford said. “It’s a tremendous challenge but a phenomenal opportunity.”