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Springfield Residents Oppose New Homeless Apartment Complex

Kevin Meerschaert

Springfield residents showed up in force to a meeting Thursday night to discuss a new housing development for the homeless proposed for the neighborhood.

Many residents are strongly opposed having Ability Housing of North Florida convert an old apartment building in their neighborhood into residences for the homeless. More than 100 residents packed into the Springfield Woman’s Club building to share their feelings with the agency and city officials.

Ability Housing is purchasing the 12 unit Cottage Avenue apartments through a grant and plans to renovate the parcel and the building. The plan is to house homeless veterans in the complex.

Ability Housing Executive Director Shannon Nazworth said the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs  is going to provide wraparound services along with help from other non-profit organizations.   
"When we work with the VA to do our screenings, everything will be done with the consideration that there is no on-site staff," she said. "We will do the best we can to screen appropriately with regards to those facts."

"In addition, the case workers will be coming to visit the residents on a regular basis. Our property manager will visit at least once a week. The maintenance man will visit at least once a week and one of our staff will visit at least once a week," she said.        

But many in the Springfield neighborhood said they are already doing their part to help the less fortunate. They pointed to about 50 special use facilities already in Springfield, from halfway houses to shelters.

Credit Kevin Meerschaert / WJCT
The apartment building being proposed as housing for homeless veterans is at 319 Cottage Ave. in Springfield.

Springfield resident and Downtown Investment Authority board member Jack Meeks said the concentration of such facilities can harm a neighborhood.

"Our city laws and zoning recognize that, and in addition to that, as I said, the DIA plan is also going to recognize that," he said "So I think hopefully that ultimately the service providers will get on the right side of history and understand that they can't provide their services in areas that in effect disable or further challenge those areas."   

Meeks said he’s considering legal action claiming the Ability Housing complex would not just be an apartment house but is new special needs facility. Such new facilities are not permitted under current land use rules in Springfield.

Ability Housing said they would only be landlords of a renovated multi-housing unit which already exists.

You can follow Kevin Meerschaert on Twitter @KMeerschaertJax.

Kevin Meerschaert has left WJCT for new pursuits. He was the producer of First Coast Connect until October of 2018.