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Alachua County Commission will discuss whether to change course on Ability Housing project

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.

  • Sounds like the County Commisioner wearing Elevator Shoes are in way over their brainless heads. Financial Ignorance at its best. Of Course they paid Alford and School Board Member while in office by mistake or knowingly. How prudent of others peoples money. Please let the State Audits into this mess continue .

  • Did any of the commissioners take a look at the per unit cost, and compare that to the other market rate projects being built? Umm, that’s @ $260K PER UNIT. I’m sure that is where the $15 million in profits that the developer will lose comes into play. That whole project should be less than half that price.

    • Monthly rent is typically around 1 percent of the value of the property, so are they going to rent for an average of $2,600 per unit? Or even $2,000 per unit? You can rent a house in the suburbs with your own yard for less than that.

      • From an earlier story: “The rents are designed for families under 60% of AMI (adjusted median income) and will range from $456 to $1,174 (with the highest rents for the 3-bedroom units). The project is designed to be workforce housing, specifically for people making roughly $12.50-$17/hour”

        • It’s hard to believe that it will cost $25 million when you consider that rent is typically at least 0.8% of the property value. Rent would need to be at least $200,000 per month total if $25,000,000 is the total cost of the complex. It would be interesting to see their plan of business and their projected profitability.

  • I agree with Wendy, these homes are way too expensive for their intended use!

    What size are these “homes”? 800sq ft? 1000 sq ft?

    Some quick calculations from Zillow’s Affordability Calculator: To be in line with the $260K GNV/Alachua County price tag (in Wendy’s post below), these homes would have to be around 1300sq ft. That is $200 per sq ft! I have not seen any plans for these homes but I doubt, based on the artist rendering above, that even the 3 BR are 1300 sq ft!

    Regardless, in order to afford one of these “Workforce Homes”, the worker would have to be making approximately $105,000 annually, with monthly bills of $600, a $20,000 down payment (probably not acceptable to most financial organizations), 3% of the homes value in Alachua County/GNV property tax, and on and on!

    Short story: Can a fireman, policeman, bank teller, recycling/trash truck driver, teacher, nurse, afford these homes? I think not, and it is certainly not their fault the housing market in AC/GNV is so price bloated!

    Sorry AC BOCC, even if you build it, they will NOT come!

      • From an earlier story: “The rents are designed for families under 60% of AMI (adjusted median income) and will range from $456 to $1,174 (with the highest rents for the 3-bedroom units). The project is designed to be workforce housing, specifically for people making roughly $12.50-$17/hour”

        • If they in fact come to fruition, those rental rates will be great! Thank you for the additional information!

        • Thanks for trying to add facts to this story twice Jennifer. Those are affordable workforce housing rents but your readers simply ignore your posts.

      • There does seem to be a big discrepancy between what they claim the cost will be ($25 million) and what the cost is if you “reverse engineer it” based on the rent they claim they will charge. It doesn’t make sense.

  • More of the same…..pouring tax revenues down a black hole. Oh….and don’t forget that nobody can do a proper audit to see where all the money went.

  • WTF do they want multiple bedroom units except to breed more dependency? Keep voting the same way, District 1 🤡👹

  • Alachua is agreeing to build a future SLUM with this project. They need not look further than Miami-Dade county to see this result from the 1960’s and 1970’s. Part of LBJ’s so called Great Society which fell flat on its face and a taxpayer burden/fraud and loss of money

  • At this point ACBOCC needs to take the Loss either spend the 230,000 and get some affordable housing in the area even if they don’t like the location or be potentially on the hook for 15million and no housing. Yea they may not pay all that but they will easily spend more than the 230k in legal fees fighting the developer and still get nothing out of it.

  • So in summary they agreed to a project without seeking proper input or listening to citizens, then reversed themselves after public outcry, and now they have placed taxpayers on the hook for approx $15M? It seems to be a constant theme that commissioners believe they have been elected to do whatever they want, regardless of public opinion.

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