BOCC changes course on housing project

Commissioner Ken Cornell
Alachua County Commissioner Ken Cornell supports moving an affordable housing project from its previously planned location at SE 8th Avenue. (Photo by Seth Johnson)

The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) attempted to strike a balance between competing interests with an affordable housing project motion that passed on 3-2 vote at a special meeting Tuesday morning.  

The motion pulls support for an affordable housing project slated for SE 8th Avenue while asking the Florida Housing Finance Corporation to still provide funds for the project at a new location.  

Alachua County approved the project and granted a local monetary match last year on the consent agenda. Ability Housing submitted the plan that would build 96 units of workforce housing across from Lincoln Estates with the assistance of state and county funds.  

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In order to qualify for the state funding, Ability Housing needed local government support. With last year’s approval, the state selected Ability Housing’s project for state dollars, but on returning to the BOCC, the project snagged.  

Local residents spoke up against the project, saying the county and the city of Gainesville have concentrated low-income and affordable housing on the city’s east side.  

At Tuesday’s meeting, Gainesville Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker spoke and noted that the opponents in the room were all African Americans from the east side of Gainesville. She also highlighted the project location in a food desert with limited public transportation. 

“We have been waiting for infrastructure,” she said. “We have been waiting for hospitals and meaningful healthcare access.”  

The Florida Housing Finance Corporation asks for site-specific projects, but BOCC Commissioner Ken Cornell traveled to Tallahassee to ask for a chance to find a new location. In a letter, the coalition indicated that there’s a possibility to still use the funding at a new site if Ability Housing can find one.  

But Cornell said if the only option is the current location, he’s not interested because the project will concentrate poverty and the surrounding community opposes it. He would rather lose the 96-unit project, buy the site from Ability Housing, and move on.  

“From this commissioner’s perspective, Florida Housing Corporation’s money, while I appreciate it, is not worth the damage that I believe this will cause if this moves forward for 96 units,” Cornell said.  

BOCC Chair Anna Prizzia said two parts of Cornell’s motion—to not support an Ability Housing project at that location and to request the project be moved—contradict each other.  

“Pulling our support and asking to move it, those two things don’t work, because as soon as we pull our support the thing collapses,” Prizzia said.  

The ordinance passed with Prizzia and Commissioner Mary Alford in dissent.  

County Attorney Sylvia Torres said Ability Housing has incurred costs based on the BOCC’s approval last year. She said if Alachua County drops out of the project, Ability Housing has sustained damages that could lead to a lawsuit.  

The commission also passed a motion that confirms a new policy on affordable housing, looking to diversify its stock across the county. That motion received unanimous support.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the location of the proposed development.

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