By Diane M. Carey, Hometown News

F.A.I.T.H. continues to pound the table to demand affordable housing in Volusia County.

It was the top topic as the organization, Fighting Against Injustice Toward Harmony, member congregations conducted their annual Nehemiah Action Assembly at Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church in Port Orange March 18.

At the standing room only event, attendees asked public officials to make public commitments for affordable housing as well as flood mitigation.

Officials who spoke at the assembly included Volusia County Chair Jeff Brower, County Councilman David Santiago, and Daytona Beach Commissioners Paula Reed and Ken Strickland. Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry appeared via video.

The program was wrought with one gut-wrenching tale after another from attendees whose lives or the lives of someone they know were upended because of housing or flooding issues.

As to affordable housing, F.A.I.T.H. members would like to see housing trust funds made available to combat the crisis. The funds could be set aside money by local government to assist in the creation, rehabilitation and preservation of housing affordable to people of lower income brackets.

By drawing investments from the private sector and by making local projects more appealing to state and federal grants, local housing trust funds consistently leverage millions of dollars every year for affordable housing. Linkage fees seek to reconcile the link between new development and the rising cost of rent. They ensure a certain portion of funds per square foot of new development are put into a housing trust fund.

Commissioners Strickland and Reed supported the idea of an affordable housing ordinance and affordable housing trust funds, but did not want to commit to using linkage fees at this time. Mayor Henry agreed to all that was proposed.

F.A.I.T.H.’s solution to flooding is low-impact development techniques, such as green roofs, rain barrels, porous pavement, rain gardens and vegetated swales.

Dr. Wendy Anderson, a Volusia Soil & Water Conservation District representative, provided an update on a low-impact development ordinance.

The techniques were said to help reduce cumulative impact by capturing and slowing the release of stormwater. They can be applied in new development or in retrofitting aging stormwater infrastructure.

A rain garden, for example, is designed to capture and filter water coming off the roof of a home before it runs over land. Vegetated swales are larger and may provide both filtration and conveyance of stormwater.

Chair Brower stated hurricanes Ian and Nicole “pinpointed where we have infrastructure problems and we cannot ignore what (God) has showed us through those storms and where the flooding goes. I believe that the flooding that we are experiencing now sits at the apex of every problem that we face in Volusia County.

He continued, “We have to develop in ways that are respectful to our neighbors. It also has to do with the constant pressure to raise taxes in order to pay for the overdevelopment because growth doesn’t pay for itself. It also affects the health of people. We can’t ignore it. We must deal with it and we must deal with it now. And there is a way to do it.”

Both Chair Brower and Councilman Santiago agreed they would support and vote yes on the hybrid low impact development strategy proposed by the Environment and Resource Analysis Center and they would meet with F.A.I.T.H. in June to provide an update on the low-impact development ordinance.

Fr. Chris Hoffmann, pastor at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church in Deltona and former F.A.I.T.H. Co-chair, provided an update on restorative practices and civil citations, noting progress has been made in those areas but more work is needed.

Prior to the assembly, he said, “We have also have been working on making sure that inmates in the county jail get their appropriate medications in a timely manner. Until recently this was not happening. We are hopeful that, with a new administrator of the jail, this is changing. Doing justice work is difficult because we cannot do it all by ourselves. Yet, with people from over 20 congregations joining together, we can make a difference.”

Fr. Matt Mello, co-chairman of F.A.I.T.H. and pastor of Our Lady of Hope, said, after the assembly, “I think the amount of people that were in the church had a great impact. The public officials were moved by the number and the passion of the people. I know that all of this will not be resolved this year, but we will continue to press forward year after year.”

Fr. Mellow continued, “I am optimistic both on the flooding side and the affordable housing side that a good common solution will come forward. Because our public officials sincerely want to help the people, they have to do a balancing act. But I think in the end, just like we got the (First Step Shelter), we will get these other measures that we will be asking for. I don’t think it’ll be exactly to everyone’s specifications, but I do anticipate a good common solution.”

Port Orange Mayor Don Burnette, who attended the event as a spectator, said, “Affordable housing is a critical issue no matter where you live in this county. It impacts everybody no matter what their socioeconomic status because what happens to your neighbors has an effect on you eventually. The trust fund is something that I think needs greater focus, not just helping people with rent.

Mayor Burnette continued, “We have a lot of housing that is owned by people out of town. As long as (people) pay those out-of-town landowners, we are enriching somebody else. We can solve poverty issues if we find a way to devote some of this money towards home ownership even in these modest properties and help build generational wealth to break that cycle of poverty. I am fine with the concept (of affordable housing). I am just not sure it goes far enough. Helping with rent is just scratching the surface.”

As to flooding, he said, “The flooding is certainly a work in progress because there are a lot of things that systemically are going to take a while to work their way through such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ study, which I was very supportive of helping them get. Then we will get projects, then we will get funding. I felt that impact personally because my mom and dad’s house was one of those houses in Daytona that was flooded. So, it is a very personal issue to me.”

The action assembly was specifically geared to Volusia County Council members for flooding and Daytona Beach officials for housing. Attendees were disappointed in the number of invited officials that did not show up. However, it was announced some not in attendance will hold future meetings with F.A.I.T.H. representatives. Citizens are encouraged to contact their city and county government officials if concerned about the issues discussed.

View the original story here.