Property owners would foot the bill for an affordable housing proposal floated by Gainesville officials who have made lowering housing costs for vulnerable households a priority.
The proposal would require the city to take out $30 million to $50 million in bonds that would be repaid with property taxes.
The local tax initiative, however, would require approval from city voters on a referendum, with some officials eyeing a stacked November ballot.
Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, who is serving his final year in office, pitched the idea to his colleagues at the city's General Policy Committee meeting last week.
The board agreed 5-1 to move forward with asking city staff to bring back information on his proposal at a July meeting.
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Hayes-Santos, who says the biggest issue facing the city is a lack of affordable housing, says the time to act is now.
“Delaying it another two years, we wouldn’t see housing on the market until probably four or five years from now," he said. "The problem gets worse. The cost to build housing with inflation and everything gets more expensive.”
But not everyone is on board with the plan just yet.
Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut, the only person who voted against the proposal, said she is concerned about putting another measure on the November ballot because it could hurt the chances of the Wild Spaces & Public Places sales tax extension passing.
“I think people may support something (on a housing bond) when they see a fully fleshed out, fully developed proposal,” she said. “I think that could gain some traction.”
The Wild Spaces & Public Places ballot question in November calls for extending the half-cent sales tax for environmental preservation and park projects.
The proposal is being paired with another half-cent infrastructure surtax to pay for road paving, upgrades to public safety facilities and land for affordable housing projects.
Both will be decided by voters countywide.
Timing on November ballot a concern
While the commissioners generally supported the the affordable housing bond proposal, several pushed back on placing the item on the upcoming ballot, an issue that remains unanswered at this time.
“I do think that ultimately this (bond) can be a significant part of our overall affordable housing strategy, so I want to continue to learn more and find out how it can be used," Mayor Lauren Poe said. "Unless I’m just blown away by what I see (from staff) in July, I’m highly unlikely to vote to put it on the November ballot.”
Commissioners Reina Saco and Harvey Ward also said they were concerned that a November referendum would be rushed and would prefer the question be poised to voters in 2024.
"The process of preparing to put a bond issue on the ballot should include months or years of conversation, and we would only have weeks to prepare to place it on the November ballot," Ward said in an email. "So I support a report that would begin the conversation, but I do not believe we are prepared to ask the people to approve a large housing bond for this November."
City staff is preparing to outline exactly how much of the $30 million to $50 million in bond revenues would be spent on affordable housing preservation and new affordable housing projects, as well as identify income limits for those qualifying for housing, Hayes-Santos said.
“They are also coming back with information about what would be the costs for the bonds for our taxpayers, the yearly costs — all the information for us to move forward on the housing bond to make sure we could build housing for our lowest-income individuals," Hayes-Santos said.
Hayes-Santos also suggested combining the bond funds with those offered by nonprofits and the Gainesville Housing Authority, allowing more than 1,200 affordable housing units to be built.
Scott Winzeler, chief outreach and development officer for Alachua Habitat for Humanity, said Tuesday that the bond revenues combined with Habitat dollars could increase the number of affordable homes the program offers.
"Obviously, it would be a great opportunity for people like us in the affordable housing sphere," he said.
Kim Tanzer, a former UF architecture professor and former dean of the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture, said Wednesday that it would be too early to ask voters in November if they support the bond.
"(City officials) need to have a plan before they bring it to the voters, which is what the staff report told them," she said. "Cities with established goals and strategies have had some success. We do not have any meaningful goals or strategies this time as a city."
This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Gainesville officials weigh property tax hike to fund affordable housing