Magnolia Oaks provides residents with peace-of-mind living

Amenities at Magnolia Oaks include a playground in the middle of the property.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine
Lorraine Brinson lives in a two-bedroom unit at Magnolia Oaks.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine
Patrick McDowell is CEO of McDowell Housing Partners.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

Her dresser drawers were useless for stowing clothes. Quite a few other things were also dysfunctional in the place where Lorraine Brinson lived.

Things had gotten so bad that she wasn’t feeling too good about the place she called home. 

“I couldn’t even put my clothes in my drawers because they were filled with rats,” Brinson said.

She was smiling, as she recalled life up to a few months ago. Home for her these days is at EKOS Magnolia Oaks, where she lives in a two-bedroom, two-bath unit.

The lighting, walk-in closet and having Wi-Fi are among the things that she likes about her new place.

“I’m glad to be here because Magnolia Oaks is a beautiful place,” she said. “I’m not going anywhere. We need some more of these.”

Binson was one of the Magnolia Oaks residents who showed up last Tuesday for the grand opening/ribbon cutting ceremony. It took place in the club house, where a weight room is nestled on one side. Outside there is a pool with accessories for comfort.

“It’s beautiful over here,” Brinson said.

Some of the other amenities include a playground, picnic area, and a computer room.

The ceremony marked the culmination of a housing development that started with construction during the summer of 2021. The 6.8-acres property is located at the intersection of Magnolia Drive and Country Club Drive. The 110 units in three-story buildings were built by McDowell Housing Partners.

The developers said every unit is occupied and there is a waiting list of 700 prospective tenants. Patrick McDowell, the company’s CEO, said the project fulfills a goal of providing upscale affordable housing.

“People that need housing like this are just having an amazingly difficult time making ends meet,” he said. “To provide a project for people who make 33 to 60 percent of AMI and to provide a rent level of under $500 for some is something that I’m proud of.”

The property has a mix of one, two and three-bedroom apartments. Rent ranges from is $427 to $1,203, said Christopher Shear, Chief Operating Officer of McDowell Housing Partners.

Primary funding for the development came from Federal Housing Tax Credit through the Florida Housing Finance Corporation. The Community Redevelopment Agency also threw in an additional $500,000.

“This is what it’s all about,” said Mayor John Dailey. “This is what Tallahassee is all about. When we, as the government, can creatively meet the private sector with incentives; this is how you build affordable housing. I’d like to think that our community is one of the leaders across the country truly making it happen.”

As part of the funding agreement, the developers offered six units to formerly homeless families. The memorandum of understanding to provide low-cost housing to former homeless individuals is one of eight that Big Bend Continuum of Care has with property owners, said Johnna Coleman, Executive Director of the non-profit agency that focuses on ending homelessness.

Living in a place like Magnolia Oaks is life-changing for anyone who didn’t have a permanent home, Coleman said.

“These properties allows them to reintegrate into a society where they’re not looked at as homeless or defined by their housing status,” she said. “It offers them the opportunity to start over and they are a part of something that is beyond their housing circumstance.”

The project was an economic contributor the day construction began, as several local people were hired. They included participants in the city’s TEMPO program.

The benefits of that went a long way, said City Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox. 

“We are talking about jobs, money in pockets so that rent can be paid,” she said. “This is life-changing.”

Kimball Thomas, director of housing and community resilience for Tallahassee, also applauded the use of TEMPO participants. The program helps at-risk teenagers and young adults get on a path to find resources for life skills development.

“It was a very good investment to make,” said Thomas, who also runs the TEMPO program. “These young people were being disconnected from the community and they got an opportunity not only to use their hands but learn a trade as well.”

McDowell currently has nine others developments under construction in Florida and Texas. The joint effort between the developers and the government worked so well that Shear said he wouldn’t mind building more in the area.

“We need more of this,” he said. “We need to come together to work as collaboratively as possible to bring more housing across this county and this city.”

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