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  • Writer's pictureTom Reilly

County seeks permission to move $25 million affordable housing project in east Gainesville

Alan Festo

The Gainesville Sun

Gainesville residents have once again protested an affordable housing development that now is in limbo — and the effects could be costly.

Roughly a dozen east Gainesville residents showed up to an Alachua County commission meeting to urge officials to move the proposed Dogwood Village development initially set for the corner of Southeast Eighth Avenue and Southeast 15th Street, across from Lincoln Park.

County commissioners unanimously sided with the majority of those who spoke at the meeting, agreeing to send a letter to the project's primary funder to request it be relocated.

"For us to do the right project in the wrong place is still the wrong place, and I really want to do the right project in the right place," Commissioner Ken Cornell said. "We the county haven't done a really good job of making sure we are properly dispersing affordable housing, in my opinion."

The $25-million project is being spearheaded by the Jacksonville-based nonprofit Ability Housing and was expected to be on about 6.3 acres of land, located next to the city of Gainesville's Heartwood homes development. The bulk of the funding comes in the form of a $15-million grant from the highly selective Florida Housing Finance Corporation program to Ability Housing. Another $460,000 is being evenly split through a local match from Alachua County government and the county's housing finance authority.

But Ability Housing's grant could vanish if the project does not come to fruition.

Residents expressed outrage during the meeting, saying the lack of communication from county officials allowed the project to get this far unbeknownst to area residents. They argued the project's density doesn't fit with the area's makeup of single-family homes, nor does it belong in an area of town that already lacks essential resources, such as grocery stores and health care.

Gainesville Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker, who represents east Gainesville, told her counterparts on the county commission that they should be more "intentional" when it comes to affordable housing.

"I believe the only way you set people up for success is to put them directly in the environment where it already is," she said. "Help me build District 1. But in the process, let's be realistic about where we are. Let's be intentional about where we put people. We've got to put people close to where the resources are so that they can thrive."

A representative of Ability Housing, however, stressed that the project was meant to provide workforce housing for those that could not afford market rates.

The plan called for 10 of the available 96 units to be reserved for those making 33% of the area median income (AMI), or about $23,034 for a family of four. The remaining 86 units would have gone to those making 60% AMI, or about $41,880 for a family of four.

About $54.4% of the county's total employment works in professions earning less than 60% AMI for a family of four, according to data shared at the meeting.

Commissioner Raemi Eagle-Glenn said the board will likely still find itself in the same position of trying to wedge the project into another part of the county.

"This affordable housing concept must look really good on paper," Eagle-Glenn said. "It sounds altruistic, but when it's put into practice the people don't want it."

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