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County Commission passes residential rental unit permit and inspection program, sets property tax rates, and requests that an affordable housing project look for a new location

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

ALACHUA COUNTY, Fla. – At their regular meeting on September 13, the Alachua County Commission asked an affordable housing project to find a new location, passed a residential rental unit permit and inspection program, and set property taxes for the next fiscal year.

Dogwood Village Project

This agenda item was supposed to be a simple 15-minute presentation on the project status, but a lot of community members showed up to ask the commission to stop the project.

The project began when the Housing Finance Authority (HFA) submitted an application to request a local government contribution of $230,000 from the County Commission; the County Commission approved it in September 2020, and the HFA approved a loan award for $460,000 in August 2021 to build a housing project in the city of Gainesville, known as the Dogwood Village Development. Permitting will be handled by the City of Gainesville; the County Commission’s only involvement was supposed to be providing half of that $460,000 to the HFA. 

The project is being built by Ability Housing, a nonprofit from Jacksonville. They have purchased two properties on SE 15th Street, just east of Lincoln Middle School, and this project is planned for the corner of SE 15th Street and SE 8th Avenue. 

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The project will have 96 units: 40 1-bedroom, 1-bathroom units; 40 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom units; and 16 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom units. 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. The company has secured $15 million from Florida Housing Finance Corporation in low-income housing tax credit funds, along with the $460,000 from HFA, toward its budget of about $25 million. 

Although the representative from Ability Housing said it was too late in the process for the state to approve a change of site, Commissioner Ken Cornell said he wanted to ask if the project could be moved to another site. The representative said they’ve already spent a lot of money on the site plan and would need more funding and deadline extensions if they moved to another site, but they would be open to moving it to the lot they own to the south of the corner lot. Cornell added, “For us to do the right project in the wrong place, it’s still the wrong place.” He said that the County hasn’t done a good job of making sure affordable housing is “properly dispersed.”

Cornell asked if Ability Housing would be able to move forward with the project if the County pulled their $230,000 in funding, and the representative replied that the state said the project would be rescinded without that local support. Cornell said, “I really want this project to occur, I just don’t want it to occur in this location.”

Commissioner Raemi Eagle-Glenn said she was concerned because the County had previously approved the funds, and Ability Housing had contractually relied on that commitment.

County Attorney Sylvia Torres said that Ability Housing could sue the County for damages and attorneys’ fees if the County decided not to provide the funds. She said that similar cases have been settled in favor of the developer.

Commissioner Anna Prizzia said she visited an Ability Housing property in Jacksonville and was impressed by the quality of the property. She said the amenities were “what I would have considered on a higher-end apartment complex.” She said she wanted to look at the process for approval of housing projects so projects don’t get to this point in the future without more community engagement.

Cornell made a motion to send a chair letter to Florida Housing Finance Corporation, asking them to relocate the project to a different property in Alachua County. Prizzia added a recommendation that all future projects should be reviewed by the County’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, that all projects will have to provide a community engagement plan and timeline when they apply for funding from Alachua County and show evidence of implementing the plan before funds are released, that the Housing Finance Authority should provide regular updates to the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, and that the Advisory Committee should request a community engagement plan with their applications for funding.

During public comment, Chair Marihelen Wheeler let one person go past the 3-minute time limit, then said that an “elder in the community” deserves respect. After that, Wheeler held some people to the time limit but not others, based on how old they appeared to be. When Kim Tanzer spoke, for example, Wheeler said, “You’re not as old as we are,” implying that Tanzer would need to stay within the 3-minute limit. One person said, “I am 67 years old, please give me about 30 more seconds,” and Wheeler said, “You’re in.” Another person who said he was a consultant for Ability Housing asked for “a little extra time because I have a great beard,” and Wheeler responded, “Keep moving.” He spoke for eight minutes. Gainesville City Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker said, “I know I’m not an elder, Madam Chair, but I may go just a couple of seconds over that three minutes,” and Wheeler said, “You’re an elected official.” Duncan-Walker spoke for close to 11 minutes, encouraging everyone involved to “come back to the drawing board and do this right.”

All but two or three of the people who spoke during public comment opposed the project.

Prizzia said that in a “basic Google search, no deep dive, I pulled up some properties available at the same price and even more acreage than what was already available in the southwest and in the northwest… It got down to a matter of zoning.” She said the City and County have to make sure “that properties are zoned so that this equal distribution or equitable distribution of affordable housing throughout the county can actually take place.”

Commissioner Chuck Chestnut said commissioners need to pay attention to consent agendas: “I’m telling you today, I made a big mistake because I didn’t do the due diligence to really dig deeper into this. But there was no reason to because all we was doing is approving the funding for a project, affordable housing project in the future.”

Eagle-Green said that in her three months on the dais, “three affordable housing initiatives have been essentially forced upon the community and wholly rejected by the community. I’m in support of the motion because I don’t see any other way forward today. But this affordable housing concept, it must look really good on paper. It sounds altruistic. But when it’s put into practice, the people don’t want it… Do the people really want what the people in charge think that they want?”

The motion passed unanimously.

Residential Rental Unit Permit and Inspection Program

The commission also updated parts of their standard housing code to align with the 2021 International Property Maintenance Code; the previous housing code was based on the 1991 International Property Maintenance Code. The code establishes minimum requirements for the maintenance of existing buildings and properties. Enforcement is through the code enforcement process. 

Following the adoption of the housing code, they took up their new residential rental unit permit and inspection program. The new program will allow proactive enforcement of the code in rental units; currently, enforcement happens in response to complaints. Energy efficiency standards, which are more controversial and more expensive for landlords, will be added in 2026 under the ordinance. 

The County will begin outreach to landlords early next year, roll out the permitting system, and make sure they have an accurate list of rental properties. Permits will be required by October 1, 2023, and inspections will start in October 2023 for compliance with the housing and maintenance code. The County will also follow up with owners who haven’t applied for a permit at that point. The fee for landlords will be $122/year. The permits will apply to “rooms located in a condominium, co-op, timeshare, quadruplex, triplex, duplex or single-family dwelling that is rented, or advertised or held out to be rented, for periods of at least thirty (30) consecutive days or one (1) calendar month, whichever is less.” 

Eagle-Glenn said she would be voting against the ordinance because the County is already having trouble maintaining staffing, and this ordinance will require more staff; because most landlords are “working class people” who are just covering their mortgages and taxes; because not all tenants appreciate “the extra handholding or baby-sitting, quite frankly”; because there are already services for tenants, including the law library; and because the fee is a tax on landlords that will likely go up over time.

Starting in 2026, landlords will be required to service air conditioners every two years. Prizzia asked to add cleaning of the coils and the condenser to that requirement, and that was added to the motion. 

The residential rental unit permit and inspection program passed 4-1, with Eagle-Glenn in dissent.

Cornell then made a motion to ask staff to look at the potential for including buildings with more than four units in the program. He also asked staff to look at providing mediation services for rental deposits. That motion also passed 4-1, with Eagle-Glenn in dissent.

Property taxes, MSTU Law Enforcement rates, and budget

The county commission then passed their annual budget items on first reading; the second reading will be at 5:01 p.m. on September 27. The current millage for property taxes is 7.8662 mills; the rolled-back rate (the rate that would raise the same revenue as the previous year, given the increase in property values) would be 7.2684 mills. County staff recommended setting property taxes at 7.7662 mills for the coming fiscal year, a decrease of 0.1 mills from the current rate but a 6.85% increase over the rolled-back rate. 

The MSTU Law Enforcement rate will be set at 3.5678 mills, the same as last year and an 8.17% increase over the rolled-back rate of 3.2983 mills. 

The total County budget for FY23 will be $703,068,309, an increase of $2,054,920 compared to last year’s adopted budget of $701,013,389. 

The millage rates and budget passed unanimously.

The board had announced an increase in the fire assessment fee, but given the large increase in property values, they decided to reduce that amount and keep it the same as last year. The board approved the lower rate unanimously.

Stormwater rates also stayed the same as last year, by a unanimous vote.

  • Is Little Kenny Cornell trying to Trump Gvilles BOZO Poehouse in who can be the most Bidenlike and purposefully destroy the local economy for the sake of a few votes? He will loose manyfold what he thinks he is gaining. In the meantime Clean up your Homeless I 75 SR 26 Hotel Commisioner Useless.

  • County leadership is made from the same cloth as city leadership, they’re all idiots. Affordable housing is practically non-existent in Alachua County thanks to the liberal policies. Even if you can afford a house, the taxes and utilities make the basic single family home unaffordable to most residents.
    Cornell wanting to move a project that had been approved because of his wokeness is no different than the residents of Martha’s Vineyard complaining about the immigrants sent there by DeSantis. I wonder what Cornell would think about making an affordable housing community available near him? Property in Melrose is much more affordable than within the city proper. Him being the hypocrite he is, I’m sure he would say there isn’t the transportation access to places of employment that far from the city center.

    What bears a special, second mention is “given the large increase in property taxes.” Remember that this November.

    You liberals, you’re so easily duped.

  • Cleaning the coils of an HVAC system every two years is not normal maintenance. It’s a big job and costs a lot of money. They’re just crazy.

  • Ahh yes, let’s give the oldest people who have drained the most from the taxpayers throughout their lives extra time to talk, even though they likely pay lower taxes and have less ownership in the community. So much for equal representation under the law, but I expect no less from leftist scum.

    • “Let the oldest people who have drained the most from tax payers throughout their lives.” How dare you?

      What you apparently fail to realize and to say is that the “oldest people” have paid taxes all their lives plus they’ve paid their own social security. What an ignorant thing to say.

  • I’m a landlord and guess what? Rents will be going up! The cleaning of those AC coils, the tenant will pay. The tenant needs to be changing out or cleaning there AC filter routinely!
    $121 permit fee for the year? Tenant will pay that. Everything that government mandates the landlord to do, all the costs will be added to the tenants rent. Thanks city and county commissioners for making it more expensive for people to live.
    The unexpected consequences of government intervention…

    • What’s difficult is raising the rents on longtime tenants on fixed incomes…some tell me they will have to move-out because they won’t be able to make ends meet…
      Where they will go? I don’t know…maybe Grace or on the streets.
      Stupid commie commissioners don’t know how things work when
      Providing housing for people on a budget…they need to focus on essential services and fixing the roads….

      • Hey Sherman, stupid is as stupid does over at the county and this is just more of the same. They’ve already run lots of moderate income folks out of the county in recent years. Check out the roads into GNV at commuting time. Or ask retirees of modest means at the VA or Shands. If they aren’t homeless, they likely live in a different county.

    • Oh, no, no, no! The setup is not complete! They’ll happily set rent controls. This is the beginning of more losses than liberals can imagine.

    • I’m a landlord also and me and one other landlord spoke up against it and commissioner eagle Glen descent it. Just don’t forget we have a run off election in November.

    • I’m a landlord too. Just told property manager to add all increased cost of idiocy onto lease PLUS a 15% CoG and AC stupid charge, Must be some $ connection for city and county “leaders” in this as they are all greedy, self centered, super-lib glory hounds.

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