By Mayor Ashton Hayward
There’s no place like home. It’s where we are sheltered, find our peace, start our day, plan our future, raise our children and keep all that is precious to us. As Pensacola and the rest of the country rebound from the recession and housing crisis, some segments of our community are still struggling. Living on the outskirts of the American dream, too many hard-working families cannot afford the costs of homeownership. It’s an unrelenting problem, not easily addressed and never fully solved. Nevertheless, we must devote ourselves and our resources to increasing our affordable housing inventory. Why, you ask?
… Because homeownership is at the root of a vested citizenry and contributes to the long-term stability and growth of the region.
A thriving, competitive economy needs secure, productive workers who are confident in the future of the community where they live so they will remain a permanent part of a growing population. The median annual income for a single-person in the Pensacola metropolitan area is $47,700; for a family of four, it's $59,600. Yet many of our local households earn far less than the average income. Individuals in these households provide essential services to our community – they are our child care providers, our firefighters, our law enforcement personnel.
In its 2016 Home Matters Report, the Florida Housing Coalition found that among essential service providers in Florida that were surveyed, only elementary school teachers and registered nurses had median incomes high enough to purchase a home in the Pensacola area. That means vital segments of our workforce need quality housing that costs no more than 30% of their gross income. For these families, every penny counts and if they cannot make ends meet in Pensacola they will be forced to look for jobs elsewhere. We need to show our citizens, as well as companies looking to relocate to our area, that the City is invested in our workforce and that we are not willing to lose our most valuable resource – our people – to competing communities.
Even during this era of diminished public funding, the City of Pensacola’s Housing Division has managed to increase our community’s affordable housing options. But we want to do more, and we are willing to put some of our own skin in the game. By moving city-owned property back into productive use we can create more opportunities for families to live in the city where they work and play.
Affordable housing is an integral component of regional economic development and we cannot afford to ignore the issue simply because it is a complex problem that requires multiple programs and multi-agency cooperation. What we propose is not a return to the large, distressed public housing complexes of yesteryear. Instead, we are seeking to spur the development of innovative, aesthetically pleasing housing that preserves the character of neighborhoods.
In the coming months my staff will assemble a comprehensive list of city-owned land and recommend to the City Council that the City sell some of the parcels to provide funds for new or existing housing programs. Some of these lots will be bundled with homebuyer assistance programs to help qualified families finance homes in mixed-income neighborhoods. By utilizing for-profit and non-profit developers, federal and state incentive programs, and local private investors, we intend to manage our city-owned infill properties in a manner that can serve as a model for the growth of mixed-income neighborhoods and lead to the elimination of “pockets of poverty.” The intended result: a transformative mix of new affordable and market rate housing that will improve neighborhoods and provide more people with a place to call home in the City.
Note: This article originally appeared in the Pensacola News Journal.