Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
April 16, 2017 1:00 a.m.
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.”
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 http://www.fanniemae.com/resources/file/fundmarket/pdf/hoytpivo_mfhousing_affordablehousingdef_122013.pdf ]
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) http://www.flhousing.org 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 http://www.nassaucountyfl.com/index.aspx?nid=179.
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 (https://affordablehousingonline.com/housing-authority/Florida/Housing-Authority-of-City-of-Fernandina-Beach/FL037) 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.”
Learn more about this project and its private/public partnerships at http://www.ihtmv.org/about/. 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 https://www.nassauhabitatforhumanity.org.
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.
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!
Editor’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.