More Jacksonville Properties Could be Converted Into Affordable Housing

Apr 25, 2016

More people will be allowed to develop vacant properties into affordable housing — that is, if the City Council approves a bill Tuesday evening.

The city has somewhere between 400 to 450 properties eligible for the donation list. They end up there when owners stop paying taxes or they’re foreclosed.

Right now, the only entities that can receive the free properties to develop into affordable housing are called Community Housing Development Organizations. Jacksonville has five of them. CHDOs are nonprofits that have to adhere to Housing and Urban Development standards. Developers also must build the affordable homes in specified areas.

One of them, called Operation New Hope, develops houses in the Springfield area. Its Housing Development Manager, Robert Ownby, said CHDOs take input from neighbors.

“The community could tell us what they want to see in their neighborhood and not just organizations coming in and telling, ‘We’re going to put 50 homes in your neighborhood,’ ” he said. “We let them tell us what they want to see.”

Council on Tuesday will vote whether to allow anyone to develop donated houses, as long as they have an affordable-housing proposal approved by the city. They could be for-profit companies or individuals.

Overall, Ownby said the idea of developing more properties is a good idea, although developers should work with communities. 

The idea has proved controversial as the bill has stalled in committees for about a year. Councilman Reggie Brown said he has reservations about giving out properties to just anyone.

“We have a home that’s existing. The market value is $60,000. I don’t want us to come build a house, and the market value of that home is $40,000,” he said.

He said deed-restricted communities or those with overlays, like Springfield and Riverside, are protected. But in other areas, he doesn’t want a house popping up that looks completely different than the rest of the community. He said he wants to protect the character of communities.

Brown supported the Council committee's amendment of the bill Monday to hold other developers to the same building standards as the CHDO. Building requirements include 8-foot-high ceilings, fresh paint and security lighting.

CHDO’s will also have a month’s head start to claim as many as five properties before other entities can submit proposals.

The bill will also increase the value of properties the city can donate from $25,000 to $50,000. 

Council will take up the bill Tuesday. The meeting begins at 5 p.m.

Photo used under Creative Commons license.