There is no question that St. Johns County is experiencing an affordable housing crisis across the entire income spectrum. In June 2022, the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce put together an Affordable/ Workforce Housing Task Force to tackle the issue of affordable housing for our essential workforce including public safety, first responders, medical professionals, industrial manufacturing employees, and educators. The initial Task Force membership includes representatives from each of these sectors plus banking, investment companies, realtors, and experts in land use and affordable housing law. The Task Force recognizes the disparity between housing needs and affordability at all income levels. What we are endeavoring to address is the limited income affordability band (from $45,000 to $65,000 income level) that directly affects housing for our first responders/law enforcement, medical professionals, manufacturing technology employees, and educators. These professions represent the backbone of our society and without the availability of affordable housing options for the employees in these sectors, the St. Johns County economy will simply not be able to continue to grow and thrive in the coming years.
In early July, we held our first meeting to explore the parameters of the issue and discuss viable solutions. This meeting was followed up with several more, including a meeting in August where representatives from the North East Florida Builders Association (NEFBA) asked to present a proposal for possible changes in St. Johns County ordinances to allow more affordable housing units to be built.
The Task Force has been diligently discussing, refining, and recommending modifications to the NEFBA proposal since August in order to reach a consensus. There are a number of changes to existing law that if enacted, could be beneficial toward the ultimate goal of building additional housing units. The Task Force is still working through the two thorniest issues: reducing the percentage of affordable housing units required in new developments and increasing the minimum price from $240,000 to $270,000 to be defined as affordable. Our preliminary recommendations are presented below for your consideration.
Affordable Housing Supply Recommendations:
Code Revision to Increase Density
- Expand affordable rental units Many families who need affordable homes either do not want to or are currently unable to purchase a single-family home in St. Johns County.
- Expand Options to include a new category for Duplex homes Most affordable homes under development are townhomes, typically in 8-unit buildings. Adding a Duplex category would allow families to have homes with windows on three sides and would provide a private, connected front, side, and rear yard with only one adjoining neighbor.
- Require multifamily projects with 100 units or more to make 5% to 10% of units classified as affordable
- Explore the creation of Community Land Trusts For example, Duval County has an existing CLT.
The following elements will need additional discussion and adjustments in order to be accepted by the Task Force as a solution to solve workforce housing for the specifically limited income affordability band of our first responders/law enforcement, medical professionals, manufacturing technology employees, and educators.
- Allow encroachments into side yards in compliance with the National Fire Code The development codes in Clay, Flagler, Duval, and Nassau counties currently allow these encroachments.
- Add density in certain land use categories There would be no change to Res-B, but increased density in the more intense land use categories will reduce costs.
- Adapt regulatory/code requirements, processes, and deadlines - Extend the start time for development from 2 to 3 years after approval for Affordable Housing Development Projects. Many regulatory requirements for new developments such as environmental permitting are taking 18 or more months on many projects.
- Reduce the required percentage of workforce housing units from 40% to 20% Most jurisdictions of a similar size currently require 20% or fewer WFH units in new developments. This change will encourage developers to build units in this zoning category as there will be additional market-rate units to cover the margin reductions on the workforce housing units.
- Raise the base price of WFH units to $270,000 and provide for automatic adjustments up or down Most jurisdictions in Florida consider WFH to include housing up to 120% of the Adjusted Median Income (AMI). For example, Sarasota and Martin Counties have a WFH price limit of $350,000. An increase from $240,000 to $270,000 would still be 30% lower than counties of similar size.
Ultimately, the Chamber’s goal is to increase the number of affordable workforce housing units built in St. Johns County. This is a major driver for the continued growth and prosperity of our County’s economic growth and an opportunity not to be missed.