City commissioners hit BOCC on housing decision

Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut
Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut said the city will not step in to fund Dogwood Village, a new affordable housing development. (File photo by Seth Johnson)

The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) vote to withdraw support from an affordable housing development in East Gainesville prompted a strong reaction from several Gainesville City Commission members.  

The BOCC on Tuesday voted 3-2 to pull its local monetary match from the Dogwood Village Apartment, a 96-unit workforce housing development. The project, estimated to cost $21.5 million to build, had gotten a $15 million grant from the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, and the local match was $460,000, which the BOCC was to split with the Alachua County Housing Authority. 

The board faced community pressure over the location, near the Lincoln Estates. Local residents objected to the county adding to the already concentrated low-income and affordable housing on the city’s east side.   

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The BOCC has asked the Florida Housing Finance Coalition if they can change the location and build the project elsewhere in Alachua. 

City Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker was one of the people who spoke at the BOCC meeting and pointed out that the area where the Dogwood Village was to go lacked infrastructure – such as grocery stores and healthcare facilities – to support it. 

During commissioner comment at the last regular City Commission of the year, Duncan-Walker read a letter from the county to Ability Housing that seemed to indicate that the city of Gainesville would be involved in finding a new home for the affordable housing project and potentially in the purchase of the land where Dogwood Village was to be located.  

Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut objected to Gainesville being mentioned as a partner in finding a new home for Dogwood Village. 

“I don’t want to give the impression that the city is going to provide funds to relocate this project,” Chestnut said. “We don’t have funds to provide.” 

Outgoing Mayor Lauren Poe said the BOCC should have been proud to receive the housing finance grant, since it was a competitive process, and should have approved the project. 

“To think that a single dollar of Gainesville taxpayers’ money would go to prevent affordable housing from being built is unimaginable,” Poe said. “I cannot wrap my mind around that tacit request. “ 

The county’s decision and the letter drew more heated comments from other Gainesville commission members. 

“It was disappointing to see the county stop 100s of people from getting homes,” said City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos. “This is a county decision to stop people from getting homes, and they need to figure out where they can find homes for these people.”  

City Commissioner David Arreola called the decision “heartless” and said the city “shouldn’t have been anywhere near this conversation.”  

Like Hayes-Santos and Poe, Arreola is term-limited and leaves the city commission in early January when the new commissioners are sworn in.   

“As a voter, I am so deeply disappointed – ashamed even – that elected officials would pull funding from affordable housing,” Arreola said. “It is unconscionable. We can have our disagreements. We can have our differences, but come on y’all, we’re going to start pulling funding from affordable housing now.”  

Arreola said he was concerned that after the BOCC pulled out of the Dogwood Village project that state agencies would be reluctant to award future projects to the county or city.  

“It’s already hard enough to fight for funding,” Arreola said. “This is reckless. This is irresponsible.”  

City Commissioner and incoming Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward said his stance was more moderate: he wasn’t supportive of the city just bailing out the Dogwood project but was open to working with the county in the future – as long as they involve themselves in the city’s deliberative processes.  

“Let’s be clear, we are not offering a blank check,” Ward said. “If the county or anyone else wants to make proposals or get involved in our processes, we’re happy to build you into the discussion as we move forward.”  

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