Gainesville residents seem eager for a new approach to housing in our community, but first want to better understand how proposed changes would work and are concerned about the impact on their neighborhoods.
Those were some of my takeaways after attending the first of three affordable housing workshops being held this month by Gainesville city government. Monday’s workshop in the Gainesville Regional Utilities Multipurpose Room attracted dozens of residents seeking to learn more about policies and programs that the city is considering to increase access to affordable housing.
Gainesville currently has a shortfall of nearly 16,000 affordable housing units, according to data presented at the meeting that was collected by the University of Florida’s Shimberg Center for Housing Studies. Area home prices have risen in recent years as they reach levels not seen since the first few years of the housing boom in the early 2000s.
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Monday’s workshop was a reminder that the city has worked on housing plans for several years but has made just incremental progress. The meeting attracted several critics of the city’s approach to housing and others who have long participated in meetings on these efforts. As one participant said, “I'm disappointed that there’s all this talk and no action.”
The meeting also drew newcomers to these discussions, whose participation is needed if officials hope to garner wide support for changes. Residents have two more opportunities to take part in events this month: a workshop focused on exclusionary and inclusionary zoning, held Tuesday, May 17, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center, 837 SE 7th Ave; and a broader discussion of housing issues Saturday, May 21, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the A. Quinn Jones Auditorium, 1108 NW 7th Ave.
Residents first should do some homework to better understand the issues at hand. Monday's meeting included breakout sessions on various topics, which included an “Affordable Housing 101” session for those unfamiliar with the issue, but also sessions on specific policies and programs such as a community land trust and first-time homebuyer programs.
The session on the community land trust left me with more questions than answers that will hopefully be better addressed at the May 21 workshop, which will include participation from the Bright Community Trust. The city has contracted with the Clearwater-based nonprofit, which works with local governments to acquire land and build housing that is kept affordable in perpetuity, and dedicated $1 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds to begin the effort.
A good resource for information is the Housing Solutions Lab at New York University’s Furman Center. A series of explainer videos on its website (https://bit.ly/housingbasics) provides a general introduction to housing issues and what causes high costs. Data collected by the group includes information on housing affordability and needs in Gainesville (https://bit.ly/gainesvillehousingdata).
Now is the time for local residents to get informed and involved in this issue. Changes to Gainesville’s zoning policies are expected to be considered by the City Plan Board later this month and then by the City Commission as soon as its first meeting in June. Other changes will take longer to implement, but will be greatly affected by the mayoral election and other races on the ballot in August along with the candidates and ballot issues being considered in November.
The Sun’s community advisory board is taking a closer look at ways to increase access to affordable housing, which I’ll be writing about in an upcoming column along with more details about the board. I have also asked some of our regular contributors, who tend to be critical of the City Commission’s approach to housing, to write pieces about housing solutions they support. I invite others to do the same in letters to the editor or guest columns (email them to email@example.com).
Let’s have a constructive dialogue on housing issues that helps move our community from talk to action.
Editor's note: The affordable housing workshops mentioned in this column have been rescheduled to June after a COVID outbreak among city commissioners.
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This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Nathan Crabbe: Get informed, involved in housing issue in Gainesville