By Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, The Daytona Beach News-Journal

DAYTONA BEACH — Volusia County Council candidates said they support establishing a trust fund to create more affordable housing during a FAITH organization virtual forum Monday night.

All six County Council candidates said if elected they’ll support and advocate for a countywide affordable housing trust fund to be created next year. But the candidates differed on how to build the fund, and who should be in charge of it.

“This is a deeply rooted problem in our community, and it must be addressed with common sense,” said County Council member Heather Post, who’s running for re-election to her District 4 seat. “This is effectively being done elsewhere, and our time is now.”

District 4 challenger Barbara Bonarrigo also said she’s behind FAITH’s efforts to improve affordable housing in Volusia County.

All six candidates also supported being part of another FAITH assembly in March, when affordable housing and adult criminal justice reform will be top priorities for the nonprofit organization.

But when asked if they would direct county staff to identify a new sustainable source of money that could funnel at least $7 million every year into an affordable housing trust fund, only the four candidates running for the District 2 and 4 seats said yes.

“Once I’m elected I can fight to make sure those funds are secure,” said District 2 County Council candidate Danny Fuqua.

District 2 County Council member Billie Wheeler, who didn’t take part in the Zoom meeting because of a family emergency, also supports the county backing affordable housing efforts.

The answer from the two people running for chair of the County Council, however, was no.

County chair candidate Deb Denys, currently the Council’s District 3 representative, said she would only commit to refueling a housing trust with $7 million every year if a new revenue source is identified.

She also said all of Volusia County’s 16 cites need to be involved and have “buy-in” with the housing fund to make it successful.

“I will be at the table for the solution,” Denys said.

Jeff Brower, the other county chair candidate, repeatedly said he opposes the county funding an affordable housing trust.

“I’m opposed to having this be a government solution,” Brower said. “I don’t want it to be directed by county staff.”

Brower added, “There’s no way” the county should “commit to $7 million in new taxes.”

The Rev. Ben Collins, one of several local religious leaders taking part in Monday night’s Zoom meeting, told Brower FAITH isn’t specifically asking for any sort of tax dollars to fund the housing trust. Other sources of revenue could be used, Collins said.

Governments do collect various types of taxes, but they’re also funded through an array of other sources including grants, user fees, fines, loans, bonds and inter-agency partnerships.

But Brower countered, “There’s only one way the county gets money, and that’s taxes.”

“If it’s part of the county budget, it will raise taxes,” Brower said.

He said he would “be part of the solution” to find a way to pay for affordable housing in Volusia County.

“I’m actually very excited about alternative sources,” Brower said, but he did not offer examples.

He told the roughly 315 FAITH members on the Zoom call that he “very much” appreciates the work they’re doing, and he wants to “be a part of it.”

But Brower said he doesn’t want the housing fund to be part of county government.

“This whole problem of helping the poor is a ministry of the church,” he said.

When the government gets involved “it becomes impersonal” and there can be wasteful spending, he said.

“It removes it too far away from the people of faith,” Brower said.

The FAITH organization is a coalition of 30 local houses of worship that for the past 20 years has advocated for solutions to community problems.

FAITH is an acronym for Fighting Against Injustice Towards Harmony. The multi-denominational social justice organization confronts what it deems to be systemic injustice by using the weight of an organized group to hold local decision makers accountable for their actions.

In the last two decades, FAITH has been involved in the creation of a new Daytona Beach homeless shelter, a health clinic for the uninsured in Daytona Beach, the expansion of VOTRAN bus service for late shift workers, and the establishment of a substance abuse treatment program in the Volusia County Branch Jail.

FAITH started making the case in 2019 for the Volusia County Council to establish a fund for affordable housing that would have $7 million in it every year. FAITH wants the fund to be locally controlled.

“A minimum wage worker would have to work 79 hours a week to afford a standard one-bedroom apartment at the fair market value,” the Rev. Phil Egitto, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Daytona Beach and a FAITH member, told County Council members earlier this year.

According to Harvard University’s Joint Center on Housing Studies, more than 21,000 households in the Deltona-Daytona metro area are spending more than half of their income on rent.

The FAITH group also brought attention to affordable housing in June with a rally at the Daytona Beach Drive-In Christian Church in Daytona Beach Shores. Everyone stayed in their cars during the event.

The Rev. Caitlin White said Monday that with all the financial shortfalls spurred by the coronavirus epidemic, some might say this is the wrong time to ask a local government for money. But ripple effects from the virus are exactly why the housing need is more dire than ever, she said.

“If there is a more critical moment when we need to make sure everyone can afford to live here, I’m not sure what it is,” White said.

View the original story here.