By Sheldon Gardner, Daytona Beach News-Journal
Candidates for the chairman’s seat on the Volusia County Council voiced support for creating a dedicated fund for affordable housing during an event this week that drew hundreds to a Daytona Beach church.
Members of F.A.I.T.H. – Fighting Against Injustice Towards Harmony – a nonprofit made up of members of religious congregations across the county, organized a candidate forum on affordable housing as part of their Community Problems Assembly this week at Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church at 580 George W. Engram Blvd. in Daytona Beach.
Estimated 400-plus attend event
Organizers estimated that more than 400 people attended the event, which focused on some of the group’s priorities such as affordable housing and criminal justice.
F.A.I.T.H. is active at County Council meetings, sometimes bringing large groups to the council chambers to call on members to take action on a range of issues.
The group hosted dozens of meetings to learn about people’s concerns. Pedro Dash, of Tubman-King Community Church, said that most of the stories they heard focused on the lack of affordable housing. People also talked about soaring home insurance costs, he said.
“We heard dozens of stories of people worried about their children and grandchildren who are struggling to make enough just to afford a place to live,” he said. “We heard from seniors all over the county who are being priced out of their homes.”
Volusia County has a large gap between the need for affordable housing and what’s available.
The county’s affordable housing plan, approved in 2022, said the county needed 11,530 more affordable housing units.
Wages are a problem.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a full-time worker in Volusia County needs to earn $25.04 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment at a fair-market rent of $1,302 a month. Affordability in this case means not paying over 30% of their income on housing.
Meanwhile, the estimated average hourly wage for renters in Volusia is $17.48, according to the coalition. At that income, one could afford a monthly rent of $909.
Finding an affordable apartment is challenging, before considering factors such as the safety of the community and the amenities and condition of the housing.
A search on Zillow on Wednesday showed 140 results for one-bedroom apartments in Volusia County. The lowest price listed was $800 a month, and there were two listings available for that amount. Both were in Daytona Beach. The listings quickly shoot up to over $1,000 a month for one-bedroom apartments.
Port Orange Mayor Don Burnette and local business owner Randy Dye, both of whom are challenging incumbent Jeff Brower for the County Council chairman’s seat, attended the event. Brower, Burnette and Dye are the only candidates who have filed to run for the seat so far.
F.A.I.T.H invited Brower, but he didn’t attend. Brower said he had a prior commitment to speak at a town hall about the proposed fuel storage and distribution facility in Ormond Beach.
Affordable housing trust fund pitched
The candidate session was brief, with NAACP Volusia County-Daytona Beach branch President Cynthia Slater asking the candidates several questions.
Both Burnette and Dye said they believe Volusia County needs an affordable housing trust fund to help create more affordable housing. Trust funds can be used toward meeting “critical housing needs” in a community such as building affordable housing, rehabilitating housing and supporting affordable rental housing, according to the county’s Affordable Housing Plan.
F.A.I.T.H. has been advocating for creating a trust fund for years. The group supports launching a countywide housing trust fund with $2.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars.
Both Burnette and Dye proposed ways to bring in local funding for affordable housing.
Dye said he supports having developers contribute.
“I think there’s a way that we can ask the developers, who are driving up the price of housing, to fund affordable housing,” he said.
He also suggested that the county could add a section to annual tax bills that would allow people to voluntarily contribute to an affordable housing trust fund.
Burnette said he supports looking into having the county government accept endowments and other contributions from people in the community to support affordable housing.
Referring to a Bible passage, he said “All of us in this community need to step up.”
Both men shared personal stories as they ended their comments.
Dye said at one time “way back” his family would have been a candidate for affordable housing.
He said he’s worked on affordable housing issues through the nonprofit Volusia Initiative for Church and Community, and through that he’s seen how challenging it can be to get people to support affordable housing ― but he said he’s not done fighting on the issue.
Rent ‘enriching somebody else’
“Everybody will nod their heads and say affordable housing’s a good thing until it’s right in their backyard,” he said.
Burnette said his father has lived near Sunnyland Park in Daytona Beach since 1964 and plans to stay there, but he said his dad wants to see changes in the community. Burnette said the neighborhood hasn’t changed much over the years.
“That’s a problem. When you rent, even an affordable rent, you’re still enriching somebody else,” he said. “We have to find a way to get people in housing so that they can build generational wealth, no matter how modest, so that not only do we help people today but in the generations to come cumulatively.”
The event included personal stories from residents. Among those who shared their struggles was Frances Owings, who said she lived in her car for six months because she couldn’t find an affordable place to rent in Volusia County.
“One night I ended up in the E.R., then into surgery and two stents put into my heart. Please help the residents with the much-needed affordable housing,” she said.
Some elements of the county’s affordable housing plan are already in place. This year the county approved financial incentives through the plan to go toward a 40-unit Habitat for Humanity development at 1445 Flomich St. just outside the Daytona Beach city limits.
Brower, who spoke over the phone with the News-Journal, said while the county’s affordable housing plan supports the creation of an affordable housing trust fund, the idea never took off. He said he doesn’t support creating a trust fund because he believes enough money already exists for affordable housing.
He said the county’s program that’s underway needs a chance to work.
Brower said the county needs to attract more businesses that offer higher salaries. He also said he supports asking developers to set aside a portion of affordable housing if they are seeking a change in zoning or land use.
He said affordable housing is a high priority for him as he seeks another term, and the issue is personal. He said some of his children are looking for places to rent and are facing high costs.
“I don’t know how young people are supposed to get started. … There’s almost no such thing as affordable housing anymore,” he said.
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