By Ralph Chapoco and Amira Sweilem, Florida Today

Note: This story has been updated to include that the Charter Review Commission is considering a proposal for a housing trust fund.

Representatives from the Brevard Justice Ministry said they are undeterred in their mission to provide affordable housing to people in the area, despite the criticism they received from county commissioners.

They said they will continue working with county officials to create a housing trust fund to help build affordable housing units throughout the community.

“Our heart is that, as members of Brevard Justice Ministry, to extend a hand in fellowship and partnership to our municipalities to see where there is common ground for us to work together,” said Bishop Merton Clark, the co-president of the organization.

The Brevard Justice Ministry hosted an event May 2 focusing on the affordable housing crisis plaguing Brevard County.

The group had extended an invitation to all the commissioners for them to listen to those affected by the issue and to provide potential solutions. None, however, attended, for which they received criticism from some in the community.

Commissioners responded during the board report section of their planning and zoning meeting, explaining they could not attend the gathering because of prior commitments, while also denigrating the group’s efforts, claiming its leaders did not want to work to find a solution.

Despite the incident, representatives from the ministry will continue to work on the issue, as well as with the county.

“We are laser-focused on getting affordable housing to become a reality for our neighbors, and to work with our County Commission leaders on that,” said Allee Willcox, an associate pastor with Suntree United Methodist Church.

Part of that includes continuing to work with the same partners they had started this mission with, including Family Promise of Brevard and the Brevard Homeless Coalition, to research the problem of affordable housing and the issues that contributing to it.

Representatives highlighted three requests during their event:

“Do you agree that affordable housing is a problem in Brevard County?”
“Will you take steps to empower the county manager and his staff to draft an Affordable Housing Trust Fund plan with a target of $10 million by October 1st?”
“Will you meet with us in September and attend our Nov. 17 Annual Assembly to report on the status of the plan?”

In terms of the county, the three pillars have crystallized and narrowed to a single initiative — the creating of an affordable housing trust fund to provide financial assistance to build more affordable housing units.

The justice ministry wants $10 million to start with, and then continue working with commissioners to ensure that affordable housing continues to move forward.

Group leaders already have met with Commissioner John Tobia, and they recently met with a second commissioner.

“I don’t know that they asked for anything,” Commission Chair Kristine Zonka said. “I think they just wanted to be heard, and I think they wanted to offer some suggestions, but we let Jordin (Chandler) talk about where he was, because they didn’t really know about the charter submittal.”

In some respects, Zonka already had been working on a measure to address the matter with Chandler, one of her three appointees to the Charter Review Commission, whose mission is to provide a road map for revising the county’s guiding document.

Since then, Chandler has introduced a proposed housing trust fund that addresses many of the concerns of the justice ministry.

“It leaves it pretty open, as far as funding is concerned, so I am hoping it makes it though the Charter Review Commission,” Zonka said.

For her, the trust fund represents the best chance for the community to find a solution to affordable housing.

“We are bound by our charter cap,” Zonka said. “You have to have a commission that is willing to bust the cap, which requires a supermajority. We have to have all four votes, so that is off the table.”

Unless by county commission overrides it by a supermajority vote, the county charter limits the increase for taxes by 3% or the consumer price index, which is tied to inflation.

That proposal has been submitted and is awaiting passage. In the meantime, the Justice Ministry is reviewing the language and with the possibility of providing input.

“A charter amendment is a more solid commitment to affordable housing than an ordinance,” Zonka said. “You can’t undo it easily.”

View the original story here.