GNV historic stabilization pilot moves forward

Harvey Ward
Gainesville Commissioner Harvey Ward (left) speaks at a June 2 meeting with Commissioner Reina Saco.

Demolitions in Gainesville’s Fifth Avenue neighborhood razed 91 buildings between 1982 to 2012—or 23% of the homes in the neighborhood. Similar actions in Pleasant Street, Porters Quarters and Springhill put historic structures at risk, according to the City of Gainesville. 

Chelsea Bakaitis serves as a project manager for Gainesville Community Reinvestment Area (GCRA), a city program. At Thursday’s regular meeting, she brought the commission up to date on a pilot Historic Home Stabilization Program aimed at preserving the history in these neighborhoods. 

“There’s been a history of demolition in the City of Gainesville,” Bakaitis said at the meeting. “This program, instead of looking at the existing historic districts within the GCRA, we decided to look at the neighborhoods that are most at risk for having historic homes demolished or most at risk for losing their historic character.” 

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The program would provide funds for owners in these and other neighborhoods to keep up maintenance on properties, from new roofs to foundation repair or refreshed stucco. City commissioners approved the plan in April but asked that it include more than single-family homes—an original constraint. 

Currently, the city has budgeted $76,868 toward the program. The GCRA estimated individual projects will cost between $2,000 and $20,000. 

For eligibility, the building must be residential, the applicant must own the home and live at the property or have a family member living at the location. Applicants must earn at or below the Gainesville median income with preference given to those furthest below the threshold. 

Applicants must also be a part of the Pleasant Street Historic District or the local historic register, which staff can help homeowners join. 

Commissioner Reina Saco wanted to make sure homeowners applying for the funds knew the future impact of joining the local register and the expectations placed on the applicant years down the line. 

“The realization comes in at the back end for a lot of folks,” Saco said. “So important for me is that, at the very beginning, we explain the cost and benefit of it.”

Saco also asked what the city would consider family. The city list included spouses, domestic partners, siblings, in-laws, aunts and uncles along with other relations. 

But Saco said the approach seemed to focus on a legal definition. In reality, Saco said she has plenty of aunts who aren’t related to her. 

Bakaitis said the city wouldn’t trace the family roots of applicants to ensure a relationship. Instead, it would take the applicant’s word on family ties. 

Commissioner Harvey Ward brought up another question concerning the financial ramifications for applicants. 

“I don’t want this to be a situation where there’s no way out for heirs,” Ward said. “Where they’re suddenly stuck with it.” 

To receive the funds, applicants would enter a 10-year, 0% interest due-on-sale forgivable mortgage. But if the homeowner leaves the property within 10 years, they’ll face 10% interest per year. 

Ward suggested creating an appeal process for cases that need out. He said the use of the process would be sparse but necessary to avoid more problems. 

He also told GCRA staff that the funding could change based on need.  

“If you’ve got three roof repairs and are running out of money in two months, bring it to the commission and let’s have a conversation about that because clearly then we’ve found a track that needs attention.” 

The commissioners voted unanimously to approve the project. 

Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut added a section to direct staff to market the program through unconventional avenues. She recommended getting the information to churches since they’re a first source of news for many communities. 

Bakaitis said the GCRA tried to fill in the gaps that other programs aren’t covering. She also pointed out other organizations that provide similar but distinct services—some with limited funding—that include: 

  • Housing and Community Development
  • Gainesville Regional Utilities’ LEEP PLUS program
  • Rebuilding Together
  • Central Florida Community Action Agency
  • Alachua Habitat for Humanity
  • Neighborhood Housing and Development Corporation
  • Christians Concerned for the Community

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