By Jim Little, Pensacola News Journal
Pensacola can ensure 1,000 affordable apartments are built in the next 10 years if it commits to funding an affordable rental housing trust fund at $4.2 million a year, members JUST Pensacola told the City Council on Tuesday.
Members of JUST Pensacola made the case their plan for an affordable housing trust fund was the best path forward for the city to create 1,000 rental units that would be affordable for people earning at least 80% of the area median income.
“We have learned from our research that waiting for the laws of supply and demand to auto-correct this issue is unrealistic,” Rev. Ansley Walker, associate rector at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church, told the council. “Instead, we need a tool like this to incentivize affordable housing developers to come to our city.”
JUST Pensacola, which stands for Justice United Seeking Transformation in Pensacola, is an interfaith organization made up of 17 congregations from 12 different faith traditions in Pensacola and Escambia County.
The area’s median income in 2020 was $56,199, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Last year, JUST Pensacola called on both the city and county to create an affordable housing trust fund. Now, the group is coming forward with details to make that happen and calling on the city to take action.
JUST Pensacola reported that of the 10 most common jobs in Pensacola, only one, a registered nurse, made enough to afford the average cost of rent in the area for a two-bedroom apartment in 2018. In 2021 rent prices increased, pushing two-bedroom rentals out of the affordable range for even registered nurses, according to JUST Pensacola.
Ansley told the News Journal the group has a draft ordinance ready to go and are hopeful a council member will take up the proposal as soon as next month.
The group said the city could pay for the $4.2 million each year through a combination of transfer payments from Pensacola Energy, a natural gas utility owned and operated by the city; growth from property tax revenue and federal community development block grant requests.
Pensacola Mayor D.C. Reeves told the group he was committed to addressing the problem and is laying the groundwork for any potential state legislation passed to boost affordable housing funding.
Earlier in the day at his weekly press conference, Reeves praised JUST Pensacola’s efforts to find a way to address the problem.
“This isn’t just a half-baked idea that they’re bringing up,” Reeves said. “There’s been a lot of thought into their data and what they feel like the city of Pensacola needs. So I’m very appreciative of that. … As with anything now, you’ve got to focus on how do you get it done. And, the price tag that they’re talking about north of $4 million annually for 10 years, that’s a heavy lift.”
Reeves said deciding how to move forward on the proposal will have to be a joint effort between his administration and the City Council.
During the meeting Tuesday, no council members spoke to the proposal, but members of JUST Pensacola remained optimistic that the city would act.
Marian Bennett, co-president of JUST Pensacola and a member of Allen Chapel AME, said it was crucial to take action as soon as possible.
“Every day that we wait and not do something, the problem gets worse,” Bennett said.