By Jim Little, Pensacola News Journal

The advocacy group JUST Pensacola is calling on city and county leaders to come together to create an affordable housing trust fund to incentivize the creation of affordable housing in Escambia County.

JUST Pensacola, which stands for Justice United Seeking Transformation Pensacola, is a nonprofit formed by local churches including 18 congregations from 12 different faith traditions.

In 2021, JUST Pensacola successfully advocated for the State Attorney’s Office to expand the use of juvenile civil citations from 18 misdemeanor crimes to more than 100, avoiding jail time for juvenile offenders. JUST Pensacola is continuing to advocate for criminal justice issues but the group is also now focusing on the affordable housing crisis.

In making its case, JUST Pensacola members point to the latest data from the University of Florida Shimberg Center For Housing Studies that reveal 62% of Escambia County renters who make less than 80% of the median income are paying more than 30% of their income on rent. Almost a quarter of the Escambia County households that rent are paying more than 50% of their income on rent, according to the data.

Peggy Groves, a member of JUST Pensacola’s affordable housing steering committee and a church member of the First United Methodist Church of Pensacola, told the News Journal that JUST Pensacola held more than 50 house meetings in the fall and more than 300 people attended those.

During those meetings, many people shared the same story, Groves said.

“It’s the same story for everybody,” Groves said. “If you don’t make a certain salary, you can’t afford to live in Escambia County if you’re going to eat and pay rent.”

Groves said many of the people who spoke at these small meetings were what people consider “essential workers.”

“They’re working in our churches and our restaurants,” Groves said. “They’re firefighters and they’re nurses and they’re essential workers. How in the world can we have a community that’s thriving and serving each other if we can’t find a place to live?”

JUST Pensacola is holding its Nehemiah Acton Assembly at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Blue Wahoos Stadium and has invited all City Council and County Commission members to attend. The event is named after the biblical figure who led the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

Jean Blackmon, a member of JUST Pensacola’s affordable housing steering committee and first lady at First Baptist Church of Ferry Pass, said they believe the community is looking for leadership on affordable housing.

“We’re asking our city and county officials to partner with us to support producing affordable housing for our families through the rental housing trust fund,” Blackmon said.

The group believes the county could use part of the money it will receive from the American Rescue Plan Act to “seed” an affordable housing trust fund and then find local sources of funds to keep it going.

As an example to follow, the group points to other Florida counties like Pinellas and Hillsborough that have created similar programs aimed at expanding rental housing households that make between 30% and 80% of the area median income.

“This is affecting all of us, everybody, not just the people who are struggling, but all those who live here wonderfully well,” Groves said.

See original story here.