St. Johns County will deliver more than 100 affordable housing units by 2022

Several affordable housing projects planned by St. Johns County have quietly been progressing in recent months. And between two of the three complexes, residents could see more than 100 units of low-to-moderate income units ready for occupancy by 2022.

A project planned for State Road 207 and another in Hastings make use of more than $30 million the county received in federal disaster relief funds following Hurricane Matthew in 2016. County officials were able to fit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant grant under the heading of storm-related improvements as both projects will include
hurricane shelter space.

One development, tentatively named San Marcos Heights, is slated for construction at 127 Adair Rd., along the north side of S.R. 207, not far from the intersection at Kings Estate Road.

The County has allocated $15 million toward the total estimated cost of $20.7 million; the balance will be paid by the developer, and in the end it will encompass 132 multi-family units on 15 acres of land.

According to the terms set down by county officials, a minimum of 51% of those units must meet HUD’s guidelines for iow-moderate Income, which will mean between $400 to $900 in monthly rent, depending on square footage, according to Joy Andrews, deputy county administrator for St. Johns County.

Andrews, who is leading the county’s effort to increase affordable housing, said the Planning and Zoning Agency recently voted to recommend rezoning the site to Planned Unit Development. Once final approvals are in place, construction is expected to begin soon after, with an anticipated completion date of the end of 2022.

The other project that will take advantage of county-received disaster relief funds is planned for the intersection of East Essex Road and Beaman Avenue in Hastings. The complex would include 80 multifamily rental units, with half of them at low-to-moderate rate and the other half at market value.

The county will cover about $15 million of the $23 million total cost, with the developer picking up the rest of the tab. Turnstone Development Corporation was selected as the development partner, and Andrews said she expected the County to finalize the contract within days.

The proposed project includes walking trails, landscaping and amenities such as laundry facilities and a social and family services center.
Construction is expected to begin in April 2021, with residential occupancy by November 2022.

For years, Home Again St. Johns, a nonprofit helping connect the county’s “economically homeless” to resources, has sought a way to add transitional housing to its site at 1850 S.R. 207.

Plans are in the works to finally make that happen, according to Andrews.

The Board of County Commissioners will review a land swap agreement for consideration at its Oct. 20 meeting. The deal involves the trade of the 13-plus acres owned by the local Salvation Army on which Home Again currently operates a drop-in center.

Andrews said the property has already been rezoned to allow for use as an affordable housing complex to serve disadvantaged and indigent members of the local population.

The Salvation Army has agreed to sell their property at S.R. 207 to the County for $1.15 million, plus the County-owned parcel located at 1425 Old Dixie Highway for a total value of $1.7 million. Additional funding will come from the County’s affordable housing trust fund.

Details about how the complex will be run— including whether Home Again will continue to be a presence at the site — are still being worked out, according to Andrews.

When asked who the target demographic for these county-planned affordable housing units was, Andrews said, depending on the monthly rental rates, tenants might include displaced elderly, young adults starting out, or struggling families.

“With unemployment rates up due to COVID, it could be a lot of people,” Andrews added. While attempts to bridge any of the gap in an economic disparity of housing options in the county are admirable to Bill Lazar, the director of the St. Johns Housing Partnership is also realistic.

“What’s ‘affordable’ for some, is not for some of our working class here,” Lazar said. That’s because even rental units that are 50% of the county’s median income are still out of reach for many, and in part that is due to the impact fees developers have to pay to get projects off the ground and then recoup in rental rates passed on to tenants, Lazar said.

If employers, especially those in the service industry, cannot start paying their staff more in wages they will be hard pressed to fill certain skilled positions because those employees will not want to commute out of county if they cannot afford to live in St. Johns.

Lazar also said that if rents continue to remain high, those who want to save up for their first home will not be able to.

By Colleen Michele Jones, St. Augustine Record, Sept. 26, 2020