HomeLocal governmentAlachua County Commission will discuss whether to change course on Ability Housing project
Alachua County Commission will discuss whether to change course on Ability Housing project
January 6, 2023
BY JENNIFER CABRERA
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Alachua County Commission has scheduled a discussion on the Ability Housing Dogwood Village development during the evening portion of their January 10 meeting. The meeting begins at 5 p.m.
Ability Housing has proposed building the Dogwood Village Project on the corner of SE 15th Street and SE 8th Avenue; the project was approved by the County Commission in September 2020 on a consent agenda, and the State Housing Finance Authority (HFA) approved a loan award of $460,000 in August 2021. The County Commission voted in September to provide $230,000 to the HFA as a local match toward the project costs of about $25 million. The project, which would provide 96 apartments, is intended for families under 60% of adjusted median income, also known as “workforce housing.”
At the September meeting, the commission voted unanimously to approve the funds but also sent a letter asking that the project be relocated to a different property in Alachua County. After an outcry from residents of east Gainesville, Cornell brought up the project at the December 13 County Commission agenda because he wanted to reconsider that vote, and at that meeting, the board voted 3-2 to withdraw the funding unless the developer could find a site west of Main Street and the state funding source allowed the developer extra time to do that.
Ability Housing sent an email to Board Chair Anna Prizzia on December 29, stating that the Florida Housing Finance Corporation will not permit the relocation of the Dogwood Village development and will not grant any extensions. Ability Housing said they will need to return the award before January 27, leading to the loss of the project, unless the board reverses its decision. Ability Housing said if the board does not reverse course, the company will have “no choice but to return the award and seek damages from the County for its decision to breach its commitment.”
Ability Housing also requested that the County purchase the 7-acre parcel immediately to the south of Dogwood Village and wrote that if the County does not purchase the land, Ability Housing will proceed to develop the land as affordable housing, “for which it is currently zoned by right.”
Since part of the motion at the December 13 meeting promised to “make Ability Housing whole,” Ability Housing sent the County a letter on December 28 that laid out their costs to date; they stated that these estimates are preliminary and that they “may supplement these claims at the appropriate time if needed.”
Ability Housing said they paid $1.8 million for the land, spent $670k in pre-development costs, and face a loss in earned revenue of $2.7 million. Ability Housing continued, “The County will have to replace the financing necessary to develop a comparable 96-unit community in the near term, on a specific site in Alachua County”; they estimated the cost of that “gap financing” at $10 million if they can keep the cost of the development at $25 million.
The letter concludes, “Due to the County’s action, it is now liable for more than $15 million to fairly compensate Ability Housing for its losses.”
To put the $15 million in the context of the County’s budget, the County has pledged to spend 30% of its portion of the recently-passed sales surtax on affordable housing. Based on FY22 estimates, their annual allocation for affordable housing will be about $4.2 million. $15 million would be about one-third of the entire 10-year affordable housing allocation, all the money would go to “make whole” a single company because of the board’s reversal of a previous vote, and the only affordable housing units that would result from the expenditure would likely be across the street from the original site.
The options listed on the January 10 agenda include taking no action; recommitting the local government support contribution; directing staff to investigate buying the southern parcel from Ability Housing; and directing staff to approach Ability Housing, neighbors, and other interested stakeholders about negotiating a “community benefits statement.” The board may choose to do some combination of these options or something different.
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