GNV, housing authority move to closer relationship

The Gainesville City Commission voted Thursday to move forward with a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the city and the Gainesville Housing Authority (GHA).

The agreement between the two organizations started in the fall after a motion headed by Commissioner Harvey Ward.

Staff presented the specifics that the MOU would include, such as naming the GHA the official housing partner of Gainesville, providing dedicated grant and connection fee support, disbursing city property for affordable housing projects, and creating home-ownership readiness classes.

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GHA presented examples of projects where the city and GHA could come together. One is an elite job training center in East Gainesville that needs $100,000 in gap funding and could be ready for construction in six months

An accessory dwelling unit on NE 25th Street needs gap funding on top of the $249,000 the GHA has currently budgeted. It could also be “shovel ready” in six months.

“We want to make sure that we’re in a position to work very closely with the city and our other housing providers in this community,” said Pamela Davis, CEO of the housing authority. “We want to be impactful, and we believe that impact will only happen through collaboration and partnership.”

But concerns over collaboration arose.

Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker missed the initial meeting in the fall due to work and hadn’t had a chance to express her point of view to the commission yet. She said the project sounded like the city would begin to exclude other organizations working to address housing issues in the city.

“My biggest concern about this is that I don’t want us to find ourselves in a position where we are creating any type of exclusive opportunity for anyone or organization,” Duncan-Walker said.

Davis said the agreement with the city would allow GHA to take the lead on housing issues and better work with community partners. She said many times GHA and others will meet and discuss but no action happens.

The MOU with Gainesville would give the two a closer partnership and allow GHA to better work with those partners.

Ward described the arrangement like the one with GRACE Marketplace. He said the city has outsourced its homelessness response and resources through GRACE because they are the city’s experts on the matter and do such good work.

However, Harvey said that partnership doesn’t exclude the city from collaborating with other organizations who address homelessness.

Ward said he’d like to create a system that allows the city and partners to move quickly on opportunities and projects so new units don’t take years to develop.

“I want that expeditious process to be developed,” he said, adding that a partnership with GHA would allow that.

The organization is also linked to the city from its creation in the 1960s by Gainesville. While GHA isn’t a subsidiary of the city, the mayor appoints the organization’s advisory board, linking the two already.

“We can expect things of [GHA] that we can’t expect from other organizations,” Ward said.

GHA and its nonprofit arm have just over 600 housing units available with more than 1,700 people on the housing list. Most of those units are within Duncan-Walker’s district.

She said the city should have been the entity uniting everyone working on affordable housing instead of partnering and relying on GHA for the work.

She asked Davis about GHA’s current collaborations with other organizations and the need for upgrades on the units already built, most of which are more than 40 years old.

Davis said most of the current units are in need of upgrades and renovations. GHA will also need to work on those in the future besides just building new units.

The commission voted 4-1 for city staff and GHA to move forward with the MOU. Duncan-Walker dissented and Commissioner Reina Saco was absent.

Any agreement will need to be sent to the commission for approval. At that time, the commissioners can choose to move forward or modify sections of the agreement.

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