AFFORDABLE HOUSING; Disaster in Making

Article excerpt

Fourth in an occasional series

If a hurricane hit the Beaches and wiped out 70 percent of the housing developments for working people, the entire community would be mobilized.

Yet, something just as devastating has happened in the last year across the ditch, as Beaches residents call the Intracoastal Waterway.

The fact is: 11 of 16 low-income developments at the Beaches were lost last year.

The cause was not a natural disaster, simply the market reacting to the exploding value of housing. Many rental units are being converted to condominiums. That's a trend citywide, but it's acute in the areas with the highest demand, such as the Beaches.

But for working families at the Beaches, the result is the same as a natural disaster.

This happened so quickly that everyone was caught off guard, said Cindy Funkhouser, director of the Beaches Emergency Assistance Ministry and chairwoman of the Beaches Housing Coalition.

"The No. 1 cause of homelessness is the loss of affordable housing and the fastest-growing group of the homeless is families with children," she said.

The working poor, such as low-wage service workers, are being forced to move to the Westside and Northside, Funkhouser said. This could cause a workforce problem for the Beaches, because those workers may not want to commute to the Beaches for jobs that pay the same as those where they live.

MORE ATTENTION STATEWIDE

The Florida Council of 100, a nonpartisan group of key business leaders, recently issued a report on the eight most important issues for the state's future. Among them was "attainable housing."

Florida's working families are being hit with a double whammy, according to a council report:

-- Housing prices are skyrocketing. From 1996 to 2005, the average price of Florida housing increased by 70 percent vs. 50 percent for the nation.

-- Incomes are stagnant. Florida's household income ($39,000) is below the national average ($44,500). In Jacksonville, per capita income is on a downward slide.

As a result, some Floridians will remain permanent renters, the council report says, yet rental housing is being gobbled up by condo conversions. …