Recent polling published by the Opportunity Starts at Home Campaign indicates 76% of voters are likely to vote for a candidate that has a detailed plan for making housing more affordable. We hope that you will take this opportunity to review the questionnaires.
2020 Pinellas Board of County Commission
Name: Rene Flowers
Candidate for Office: Pinellas County Commission, District 7
How would you characterize the housing needs in your district, for both renters and for homeowners?
Affordable/Workforce housing is in great demand in District 7\. South St. Petersburg and Lealman have exhibited the greatest need when taking into account they both represent high communities of color. According to Pinellas County’s “Projected Housing Conditions Report”, 134, 483 units (dwellings) are needed in St. Petersburg and 145, 455 for unincorporated areas.
Affordable rental units are becoming scarce particularly for our elderly population and for those in jobs paying less than $15.00 per hour. Traditional home ownership is even more difficult. Increases in land costs have increased costs for new builds and rehab units are selling for over $250,000.
According to the most recent data from Zillow the median price of homes currently listed in Pinellas County is $289,900 while the median price of homes that sold was $243,000. Opportunities for affordable homeownership still present challenges for many working families. What will you do to expand access to affordable homeownership for working families?
I am committed to increasing funding above $80 million that the county has directed towards home- ownership programs in addition to SHIP, CDBG, and Land Trust Programs.In addition, there are tracts of land the county can look at purchasing in order to help buy down the cost of construction of affordable rentals and home purchases.
For programs like Habitat, decreasing the cost of land purchases will allow for the construction of units with reasonable 15 year mortgages for families who would otherwise not be able to afford to purchase a home.
Lastly, Tiny Home construction projects should be fully explored.
Availability of Affordable Housing
According to the University of Florida Shimberg Center for Housing Studies, within our regional MSA which encompasses both Pinellas and Pasco counties there are only 53 available affordable housing units for every 100 households under 60% AMI. What investments or policy would you champion to address the growing gap between what citizens can afford and housing costs?
I will continue to champion funding allocations for affordable/workforce housing projects led by Habitat for Humanity, Community Land Trust Projects, veteran housing programs and the Tiny Homes project by Pinellas Ex-Offender Rehabilitation Program (PERC). In addition, expanding the county Local Contribution Match program for municipal governments regarding affordable housing units will aide in closing the gap.
As a commissioner, I will also support legislation addressing hourly wages. It is not viable to address an increase in housing stock without addressing an increase in wages. Finally, revisiting the strategic plan will be necessary as a result of COVID-19 and its impact.
Racial Disparities in Homeownership
In Pinellas County there is a 31.6% gap between White (69.1%) and African America/Black (37.5%) homeownership rates, which is higher than both the State gap of 24.% and national gap of 28%. How will you reduce the racial homeownership disparities in households of color?
Supporting an increase in living wages is paramount if African Americans are to be able to afford to purchase a home even through Habitat.Wages paying $15.00 per hour or greater will increase the ability to purchase a home verses renting.
Aligning educational programs regarding homeownership to meet the needs of African American attendees is paramount especially regarding Reverse Mortgage programs which have taken away homes from families due to a lack of education.
Finally, hosting community events with developers, credit repair agencies and lending entities will provide options for potential buyers based on where they are in the process.
We cannot meet our growing housing needs without additional resources. What do you believe can be done to provide additional resources for affordable housing and how will you work towards meeting those goals?
A concerted long term plan between local, state, and federal resources is the primary way by which to create the funding needed to aide those who desire homeownership. Supporting the expansion of tax credit programs, working with lending institutions to address financing benchmarks, and implementing 30% or greater ratios for affordable units in construction new builds will go a long way in addressing the affordable housing crisis.
In addition, a complete inventory of available land parcels, HUD owned vacated properties, and other venues allowing for purchase through the land trust will support construction for affordable rentals and purchases.
The availability of affordable land and developable land, especially around transit corridors or job centers in Pasco County continues to remain a challenge. What role can local government(s) play to help mitigate raising land costs?
The role local governments can play to help mitigate land costs are to expand Land Trust programs and allow programs such as Habitat to purchase available parcels in the heart of undeserved communities for less than the appraised value in order to make their construction numbers work.
Local governments can also provide land incentives (30% of costs) in exchange for affordable workforce housing directed towards first responders, veterans, and educators who choose to reside in communities such as Midtown, Lealman, and Greenwood. For those outside of these areas, a 60% land incentive term could be negotiated.
Specific to Housing
Any additional information pertaining to affordable housing you would like the voters to know?
I understand the desire for homeowners to want their property values to increase at a fair rate of return. I caution against the “Not In My Back Yard” syndrome. Affordable/Workforce housing will provide for teachers, fireman, police officers, small business owners, and returning college graduates.
I have been successful in creating housing opportunities as a councilmember, Florida League President, and created a Blue Ribbon Task Force on Housing in partnership with HUD. Remember, we were afforded an opportunity to realize the American dream of homeownership, therefore we should not deny this dream to others.
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