Ability Housing, a developer of affordable multifamily housing, is constructing a 92-unit apartment community on three parcels that comprise about 6.5 acres.
It is the nonprofit’s first multifamily project in St. Johns County, according to a June 8 news release.
The Villages of New Augustine apartments will be at North Volusia and Chapin streets in West Augustine.
More than a year of reports from the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors have stated that affordable housing is an issue in St. Johns County, the most expensive housing market in Northeast Florida.
The $25 million project will comprise four apartment buildings and a community center with on-site leasing offices, a computer lab, a library and space for training and events. It will have 149 parking spaces. There will be a pavilion, playground and dedicated walking trail.
The project will break ground in the summer. Construction is expected begin in the third quarter of 2023.
Apartments are expected to be available to rent in early 2025.
Bradley Construction of St. Petersburg is the contractor.
Funds came from state, local and private sources, said Ability Housing President and CEO Shannon Nazworth.
The Florida Housing Finance Corporation awarded low-income housing tax credits totaling $1.625 million. That will result in a $14,867,263 equity investment by the National Equity Fund, a nonprofit syndicator. Bank of America provided the equity investment.
The St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners approved a $460,000 Affordable Housing Grant and a $1,207,134 award of American Rescue Plan Act funds June 6.
The commission approved an ordinance in 2022 making it possible to defer impact fees.
“We have seen Ability Housing’s success in bringing affordable multifamily housing to Jacksonville for several years, and welcome them as partners and neighbors to St. Johns County,” said Sarah S. Arnold, commission vice chair and District 2 representative, in the release.
“Through our collaboration on the Villages of New Augustine development, hundreds of St. Johns County residents will benefit from the opportunity to move into a brand-new, high-quality apartment in the growing West Augustine area.”
The community will include 20 one-bedroom, 36 two-bedroom and 36 three-bedroom apartments, according to the release.
Potential renters will have to meet requirements to apply to live in the Villages of New Augustine. Household income will determine rental costs. The application process will begin when the apartments are near completion, Nazworth said in an interview.
“We have a dedicated phone line that people can call to let us know they have an interest,” she said.
“We’ll then do a very high level preliminary screening to make sure that they meet the base eligibility.”
Nearly 80% of the apartments available for residents earning 60% or less of the area median income as defined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The department reassesses the median income throughout the year.
An additional 10% of the units will be for households earning up to 50% of the median income. The remaining 10% of units will be reserved for those earning up to 33% of it.
Ability Housing has projects in Duval, Orange and Osceola counties. In addition to the St. Johns County project, it has two in planning in Duval County and one in St. Petersburg.
It is working with the Historic West Augustine Community Development Corporation on the project. It took three years to receive state funds for the project, Nazworth said.
The apartments will help address the workforce housing problem in St. Johns County and the St. Augustine area, the release said.
The median cost of a single-family home in St. Johns County is $550,000, according to data from the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors. That prices out people working in St. Augustine’s tourist-dependent service sector.
Data from the Florida Housing Data Clearinghouse shows average monthly rent in St. Johns County this year is $1,670. The Zillow Observed Rent Index calculates the average rent in the county at $2,417.
“Local businesses are struggling. Their employees can’t afford to live near where they work. Many are choosing to live in surrounding counties,” Nazworth said.
“With the labor force being as tight as it is, people are finding jobs closer to where they live because it makes sense for their quality of life not to have to commute so far.”
Rents are not only affecting private businesses, Nazworth said, but expensive counties like St. Johns are having difficulty recruiting city and county workers as well, especially in law enforcement and public safety.
“Labor force issues have exacerbated into a monster. People can’t afford to live there,” she said.