‘18 homes for homeless families’: Inside one of the latest housing efforts in Palm Beach County

A new townhouse community, intended to help families experiencing homelessness amid the housing crisis, is drawing closer to reality in Palm Beach County.

The planned 18-townhome rental development received a boost Tuesday, with county commissioners unanimously approving more than $2 million to assist in its creation. The new community will be situated on 1400 Henrietta Ave. in West Palm Beach.

The 1400 Henrietta site is currently vacant, but the city of West Palm Beach used to lease the location to Urban Growers, a nonprofit aiming to combat food deserts. The land also has been used for residential properties, lumber yards, gas stations and dry cleaners, which warranted a brownfields cleanup grant in 2016.

A timeline for the project’s completion is still hazy, but construction could begin around the fall of 2024, said Linda Odum, the West Palm Beach Housing Authority executive director.

The West Palm Beach Housing Authority’s 1400 Henrietta is a transitional-housing-type project, said Jonathan Brown, the county’s Housing and Economic Development Director.

“They will newly construct 18 homes for homeless families,” he said. “The challenge you typically have with homeless families is not just the construction costs but also a funding source to help with the operational cost.”

Eligibility is also still being determined, Brown said.

“This is one of those partnerships where you have a few governmental/quasi-governmental agencies between the county, the city and the West Palm Beach Housing Authority all working together to create an opportunity for affordable housing because when you target the homeless or those at risk of homelessness, it’s one of the most challenging populations to target,” he said.

The effort joins other endeavors to increase affordable housing options. Consider:

  • The County Commission recently approved a $200 million bond intended for affordable housing.

  • The county’s Housing Leadership Council is moving forward on its “Housing For All” plan to build 20,000 affordable housing units throughout the next 10 years.

  • Applications for a county homebuyer assistance program, which can award 50 families up to to $100,000, recently closed on Oct. 31.

The West Palm Beach initiative is receiving help from federal aid.

On May 10, the Department of Housing and Economic Development issued a notice of nearly $8 million in funding from federal American Rescue Plan dollars for the development of multifamily rental housing, permanent supportive housing and residential facilities to serve populations including those experiencing housing instability, homelessness, domestic violence, sexual assault or human trafficking.

Applications for funding were accepted on a first-come, first-eligible and first funded basis, and the county approved about $2.4 million on Tuesday to the West Palm Beach Housing Authority to construct the 1400 Henrietta project.

According to a recent housing equity study conducted through a partnership with the county Housing Leadership Council and Florida International University, West Palm Beach is among a list of cities in the county with the highest concentrations of poverty.

Portions of West Palm Beach also possess a high Community Distress Index score, which measures the presence and extent to which factors contribute to a community’s vulnerability, such as disability, level of education, vehicle ownership and employment status.