By Sheldon Gardner, Daytona Beach News-Journal

A nonprofit official pushed back recently against a Volusia County Council member’s opposition to affordable housing incentives.

Jackie Mole is co-chair of F.A.I.T.H., a nonprofit organization which advocates for action on local issues such as affordable housing, flooding and criminal justice. The name of the group stands for Fighting Against Injustice Towards Harmony, and it has members from religious congregations across Volusia County.

The F.A.I.T.H. group held its Action Assembly for Affordable Housing and Flooding on March 18 at Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church Port Orange, which was expected to draw about 1,400 people.

In an interview with The News-Journal, Mole talked about affordable housing and shared his thoughts about comments made this month by District 1 Councilman Don Dempsey.

Dempsey opposed changes to Volusia County’s Comprehensive Plan to incentivize affordable housing construction, such as expedited permitting. The changes are part of the county’s five-year affordable housing plan adopted in 2022.

The council ultimately voted to put in scaled-back changes.

Dempsey, an attorney with real-estate investments, voiced opposition to giving preferential treatment to affordable housing developers.

“We need to just let the market play itself out and quit letting government pretend that we’re the cure-all for all the issues, so I’m a hard no on this,” Dempsey said at the time. “I think whenever we have an opportunity to stay out of people’s lives in a free economy, we need to.”

Mole said he disagrees with that approach.

I beg to differ that the market can handle it because I believe if the market had handled it, it would have handled it (already). In the meantime, people are still suffering,” Mole said.

Apartments for rent in Volusia County: What do they cost?
Mole, a realtor, and he said he’s seen rents increase significantly.

“A two-bedroom unit three or four years ago was rented for about $900. Now we’re talking about $1,600 a month for a two-bedroom unit,” he said.

Fair market rent for a two-bedroom unit in Volusia County based on U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development data is $1,413 a month, according to the University of Florida Shimberg Center for Housing Studies. From 2012 to 2022, Florida gained total rental units but lost units renting for less than $1,200 a month.

“Florida added over 700,000 units with rents above $1,200 from 2012 to 2022. The state lost nearly 292,000 units renting for $1,200 or less,” according to the Shimberg Center.

Volusia County had over 3,000 homeless schoolchildren
Karen DeLisle, another official with F.A.I.T.H., also spoke with The News-Journal and said one side of the affordable housing problem is the number of homeless youth.

She said it would take 34 large school buses to transport all of the schoolchildren whom Volusia County Schools described as homeless, DeLisle said.

Volusia County identified 3,007 schoolchildren who fell into the homeless category because they didn’t have a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence at some point during the year.

DeLisle called the issue “intolerable.”

“So where are they sleeping? In cars. Some are outside. Some are couch surfing,” she said.

Trust fund for affordable housing in Daytona Beach?

F.A.I.T.H. is advocating for local governments to create affordable housing trust funds to incentivize the construction and rehabilitation of affordable housing.

The City of Daytona Beach is considering adding linkage fees, a development fee, to help fund affordable housing.

Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry and Commissioners Paula Reed and Ken Strickland shared their thoughts at the F.A.I.T.H. assembly. Henry delivered his message via pre-recorded video but wasn’t at the meeting. He said he would support a $5-per-square-foot linkage fee for new commercial and residential development to support affordable housing.

Strickland and Reed said no, but added that they needed more information on linkage fees before they could consider supporting the fee. Other commissioners did not attend the assembly.

The creation of an affordable housing trust fund could be on the June 5 City Commission agenda, according to Henry and the commissioners.

View the original story here.