Affordable housing becomes a focal subject during homeownership month

Proving more affordable housing is one of the ways government hopes to use in fight against homelessness.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

Like a lot of Big Bend residents who were hit by Hurricane Michael, Tara Jackson realized that the storm had taken away a little bit of her freedom.

For one thing, she lost the freedom to be as creative as she wanted to be in her own home, unlike being a renter. After almost two years of renting, Jackson is enjoying home again.

Just like she did for 18 years before Hurricane Michael destroyed her home in Gadsden County.

Being back in a house that she owns puts Jackson among millions of Americans who can celebrate National Homeownership Month in June. National Homeownership was first recognized with a week in 1996 when former President Bill Clinton’s administration pushed for homeownership. Six years later, former President George W. Bush made the observance of homeownership a month long.

This year’s observance is especially worthy of celebration for Jackson, who moved into her new home last November.

“I can put pictures on my walls, I had the opportunity to do hardwood floors throughout my house, different rooms in my house have different colors for different meanings that’s personal to me,” Jackson said. “If you rent you can’t do that. It’s a good feeling to come home and nobody has any restrictions on anything you do in your house and I love that.”

Jackson’s 2,960-square foot home is bank financed, but there is an intensified push to give more people a shot at homeownership through affordable homeownership programs.

The Florida Housing Finance Corporation is using the month to advocate for affordable housing, according to a recent news release. The agency said it has found that 50 percent of Florida’s residents were on the cusp of homelessness, a situation that worsened in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic with growing evictions and foreclosures.

However, Florida Housing said in the release that it has assisted 4,000 households with resources through homeownership programs. The agency reports securing over $799 million mortgage loans and more than $38 million in down payment assistance to first-time buyers.

“Throughout the month of June, our team will continue to highlight the value of homeownership while also emphasizing the critical need for quality, affordable housing throughout the state of Florida,” said Trey Price, Executive Director of Florida Housing Finance Corporation. “Purchasing a home is a huge milestone in life.”

Especially when it comes to affordable housing, an initiative that municipal and state governments have been advocating lately. For example, city government in Tallahassee is considering the possibility of affordable housing on property it owns along Winewood Blvd. That is adjacent to the Northwood Centre, the future home of a new Tallahassee Police Department Headquarters.

The city has also been working with Community Land Trust on a plan that wouldn’t cost potential home owners more than 30 percent of their income toward the cost of building an affordable home. Just last month, the Community Land Trust broke ground on the first of 10 homes that it plans to build in the next year.

Another of the city’s partners is Big Bend Habitat for Humanity in the push to build more affordable homes. At a recent meeting, Commissioners voted to continue working with Habitat for Humanity, while the board also plans to contribute $195,000 from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, along with volunteer hours by City employees, and the donation of three vacant lots.

As for statewide efforts, Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed an affordable housing measure as part of his $100 billion budget. The bill will put $200 million toward affordable housing, using money that comes from documentary-stamp tax.

More money could eventually be put into affordable housing if the Florida Realtors organization gets the support of voters. The group is currently campaigning to get an affordable housing question on the 2022 ballot.

Affordable housing has become such a big part of the conversation to end homelessness that even homeowners like Jackson, who got conventional financing to build, understand the plight of people trying to get into a home of their own.

“Everybody should have the experience of living in the home of their choice,” Jackson said. “Just own a home.”