Affordable Housing 'Important' at Beaches; Director of Watchdog Group Says There Are Several Ways to Fix the Problem

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Byline: CAREN BURMEISTER

JACKSONVILLE BEACH - A state growth management watchdog organization encouraged the Beaches Housing Coalition last week to keep on top of the housing shortage for low-to-middle-income families, sharing methods that other cities have used to tackle the issue.

The health of the local economy, traffic and environment are all linked to attainable housing, said Charles Pattison, executive director of the 1,000 Friends of Florida, a nonprofit group that monitors local, regional and state growth management activities and issues.

Employees who can't afford to live in a community move farther away to find a home they can afford, contributing to urban sprawl and traffic, Pattison said. Then businesses struggle to hire employees or to pay higher salaries to fill empty positions.

"That's all tied together," said Pattison, who had been director of the Florida Department of Community Affairs' Division of Resource Planning and Management. "We see affordable housing as a pretty important piece of growth management."

About 800 Beaches families lost their homes in the last year when numerous apartment complexes, from Mayport to Ponte Vedra Beach, including Mayport's Buccaneer and Lakeside mobile home parks were sold due to soaring property values, redevelopment and condo conversions. Most of those families have moved to Jacksonville to find homes they could afford. As a result, Beaches area businesses have lost employees and are struggling to fill the positions, housing and business advocates have said.

Other cities are grappling with the issue too. Pattison described some of ways to deal with it.

One method is linkage fees, which requires businesses that will be employing low-wage workers to contribute money, based on the size of the operation, toward building housing.

Another is community land trusts, like those set up in Sarasota, Martin and Lee counties, in which a nonprofit group purchases land and forms a corporation that provides a 99-year lease to the homeowner. …