The many facets of “affordable housing”

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
April 16, 2017 1:00 a.m.

Source: Center for Urban Pedagogy

The recent proposal to increase density in Fernandina Beach’s Central Business District has caused some to raise concerns over what type of housing would be built in the downtown area and whether it would be “affordable housing.”

Housing that is affordable for a movie star would be way out of range for a school teacher.  Affordability for a single, urban professional is very different for a rural household of four with a stay-at-home mom.  What is affordable in mid-town Manhattan is not quite the same as what is affordable in Manhattan, Kansas. Or in Fernandina Beach.

The commonly accepted definition for affordability is that households should pay no more than 30 percent of their income for housing. According to Gary Pivo, PhD, who wrote an article entitled “The Definition of Affordable Housing: Concerns and Related Evidence,” “The 30% standard can be applied to any income group. It is mostly used, however, to assess housing available to families earning less than the area median income. Those families are typically classified into “very low income” families earning less than 50% of area median income (AMI), “low income” families earning 50 to 80% of AMI, and “moderate income” families earning 80 to 100% of AMI.”

Explanation of affordable housing from the city of Austin, TX

Pivo goes on in great detail to describe criticisms offered to the accepted definition. He also cites variables, which must also be considered in terms of transportation, accessibility and neighborhood conditions. [To read the complete article, see ]

According to the U.S. Census Bureau for the period 2011-2015, the median household income for the city of Fernandina Beach was $52,448. This figure is slightly higher for those residing in the 32034 Zip Code, which includes unincorporated areas of Nassau County on Amelia Island and the mainland.

The chart below was taken from the U.S. Census Bureau website for the city of Fernandina Beach, excluding unincorporated Amelia Island and mainland areas in the 32034 Zip Code.

Using the 30 percent “rule” this would mean that a household at the median level of income could afford to pay $15,734 annually ($1,311 per month), leaving the remaining income available for food, clothing, etc. Low income households, those that earn 50-80 percent of the median income—in Fernandina: $26,224-41,958—could afford monthly rents of $656 to $1,049.

Statewide housing assistance

The Florida Housing Coalition (FHC) is commonly acknowledged as the foremost authority in Florida on affordable housing, homelessness, community development and related issues, as a clearinghouse for information, a provider of training and technical assistance, and an advocate at the state and national levels for people in need of affordable housing. The Florida Housing Coalition is based in Tallahassee and has several other offices throughout Florida. Their technical assistance team consists of a highly skilled and geographically dispersed network of professional staff providing technical

One of FHC’s several important initiatives is providing funds to local governments as an incentive to create partnerships that produce and preserve affordable homeownership and multifamily housing. The program, known as the State Housing Initiatives Partnership Program, or SHIP, was designed to provide very low, low and moderate income families with assistance to purchase a home, money to repair or replace a home and many other types of housing assistance.

Nassau County administers SHIP funds countywide.

Locally, Nassau County’s SHIP Division coordinates the administration of the County’s affordable housing program to ensure optimal citizen participation, program efficiency, and effectiveness pursuant to federal, state and local housing policies, procedures and regulations. Very low-, low-, and moderate-income families who meet all of the requirements listed in Florida Statutes, Florida Administrative Code and the County’s Local Housing Assistance Plan (LHAP) may apply for assistance.

According to the county website, applications for assistance under the SHIP Program will continue to be received until January 18, 2019 or until the funding runs out. For additional information on eligibility, forms and contacts, visit

Fernandina Beach housing assistance

The Housing Authority of City of Fernandina Beach is a Section 8 and Public Housing public housing agency in Fernandina Beach, Florida. It serves in an advisory capacity to the City Commission pertaining to fair housing, construction and development of low-income housing. Information on their website ( explains what type of housing is available to those who are income eligible and also provides contact information for those interested in attending Authority meetings or seeking housing.

Other communities tackle affordable housing

But affordable housing in a resort community for those with moderate incomes is also a challenge, both for households and local government. Some communities have taken on that challenge with success.

Martha’s Vineyard, a resort island off the coast from Massachusetts, established the Island Housing Trust, which has created over 60 homeownership opportunities scattered around the island over the past 11 years. Those homes cost between $150-$300K and sell to households earning between $35,000 to $100,000. According to their President Richard Leonard, “We make it possible for people who are essential to our community’s well being – teachers, shopkeepers, health care workers, construction workers, small business owners, municipal employees, among others – to afford to own a home despite today’s high prices. Island children can thrive in stable, safe neighborhoods. Time and energy spent struggling with short-term or inadequate housing can be put to more productive use that benefits the entire community.”

From the 2015 Island Housing Trust Annual Report

Learn more about this project and its private/public partnerships at The Martha’s Vineyard project has been used as a model for other communities, where income gaps make it difficult for moderate income households to find affordable housing. Those communities that believe it is essential to include housing for its teachers, public safety workers and others, must be creative in finding ways to keep housing affordable when housing prices often seem out of reach.

Fernandina Beach has no similar program to assist moderate income households in buying a home. However, Habitat for Humanity works to provide home ownership opportunities for lower income families. See

Tiny Houses

Nationally, there is a “Tiny House Movement” gaining momentum. According to Wikipedia, The tiny house movement is a description for the architectural and social movement that advocates living simply in small homes. There is currently no set definition as to what constitutes as a tiny house; however, a residential structure under 500 square feet (46 m2) is generally accepted to be a tiny home. These houses can be set on foundations or remain mobile.

YouTube link:

The cost of such a home can easily come in under $25,000. Or, with lots of fancy upgrades, it can exceed $50,000. While such houses are not for everyone, they have attracted quite a following among young, environmentally sensitive, singles or couples. There is even a TV program devoted to these houses on HGTV. These houses are affordable to many people, and their size prevents their owners from acquiring lots of “stuff” that just will not fit in a 500 sq. ft. dwelling.

Affordable, for sure. Comfortable? Well, that’s up to the homeowner!

Suanne Thamm 4Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The many facets of “affordable housing”

  1. Dave Lott says:

    Great article and a discussion that will become more and more important as FB and the Island grows. I don’t think the Land Development Code currently supports tiny house developments. The Martha’s Vineyard concept is interesting and I will have to look at it in more detail.

  2. Chris Hadden says:

    I have my doubts whether in the long run there will be any actual affordable housing left on the island. On the positive side of the coin we are not Martha’s Vineyard. By that I mean we are attached to the mainland and it is but a short drive to Yulee where there are 30,000 homes going in. There should be plenty of affordable housing not more then a few miles from the island. I am not dismissing the idea that having an economically diverse group on the island is beneficial to our social make-up. I am just saying if you are a family making 50k you are most likely going to live right over the bridge with an easy commute if you work on the island. So I do not feel that the issue is that we won’t have housing nearby for middle class families. The real question is how important from a social makeup point is it that they are living right here on the island? Housing for “low income” people is a whole other subject. That will most likely require some kind of subsidized or rent controlled housing. We have some of that on the island but I doubt there is going to be a lot of support for more of it. If your rent has to be $700 a month chances are a town, state or government is going to have to subsidize that. Again I am not necessarily opposed to that but very doubtful that is going to be something put up on the island at this point. I spent my early years working in resort communities at low wage jobs. As a matter of fact I worked on Marthas Vineyard where I could not have afforded to live on my pay. The solution? I was provided housing. I lived rent free with all the kitchen staff, all the housekeeping staff and anyone that was making minimum wage. I do not know if the plantation does this but it strikes me as the type of place I would have worked and received housing. In the winter season I worked around the ski resorts. Again housing was provided along with meals for a nominal fee. Living situations varied, sometimes it was a bunk room. I did also have a private rooms. While not a perfect situation, for a low wage person it was a good trade off. You are not making a lot of money but you can save almost all of it. It becomes possible to save a significant amount on a very low wage. There is no financial stress in your life.

Comments are closed.