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State Officials Finalize $4.5 M Affordable Housing Plan

Iriss Photo Collection/ flickr

Florida officials are finalizing a plan to fund more affordable housing for extremely low income people.

The federal government has allocated $4.5 million dollars to build new units for people with special needs, and those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. The Florida Housing Finance Corporation is overseeing the funds, which will help private builders develop new units in existing properties. Nancy Muller is the agency’s policy director and she says the plan will focus on Floridians with special needs, making around $15,000 - $23,000 a year.

“So when we talk about special needs, we're talking about survivors of domestic violence, youth aging out of foster care, and people with disabilities of various sorts,” she said.

The statewide need for affordable housing has grown throughout the housing boom and subsequent bust. The number of low-income renters paying more than 30% of their income for rent and utilities is on the rise, according to a recent analysis by the University of Florida's Shimberg Center for Housing Studies. And while developers are building new units, Muller says many remain out of reach for the working poor.

"Across the state, in every single county, we just don't have enough units to serve those extremely low income Floridians," Muller said.

While the state does fund smaller, specialized properties for people with special needs, the $4.5 million are aimed at integrating people into existing apartment complexes. Under the plan, developers are incentivized to locate the units near public transit and amenities like grocery stores. Muller says the goal is to include people in the community at large.

"Some folks with disabilities or with special needs really want to live with other folks with those disabilities because they find that comforting or supportive. But there's a lot of folks who don't just want to live with another person with mental illness, or another survivor. They want to get back on their feet, they want to be in a community setting where they're just like everybody else," she said.

The funds come from new business revenues generated by investment firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and are allocated by the National Housing Trust Fund, which was set up following the 2008 financial crisis. The Florida Housing Finance Corporation hopes to open applications to interested builders in the next few months, pending federal approval of the plan.