College grads and retirees alike need comfortable housing options. The future of Palm Coast depends on it.
By Milissa Holland
New development helps strengthen our local economy, and, as we close out our fiscal year, I’m pleased to announce residential development in Palm Coast continues to grow. In the past year, we added 696 single-family homes, a 14% increase over the year before. Home construction has risen every single year since 2011.
One of the city’s goals is to make sure our housing choices include affordable options for young professionals just starting in the workforce, older people on a fixed income, and families working hard to make ends meet.
We need young people to move here fresh out of college, we want our retirees to have good options for when they choose to downsize, and we must help our families to live here comfortably. The future of Palm Coast depends on it.
Affordable housing often comes in the form of apartments or other types of multifamily residential units. With robust growth in recent years, the city of Palm Coast has seen a lot of interest from developers who indicate they plan to build new multifamily residential complexes. Some properties have been rezoned as developers gear up for these new developments.
As mayor, I’m often asked if these apartments are a good idea. Are they public housing, or Section 8? Will they generate crime and bring down overall property values?
I want to dispel the myths and provide some facts, so that all of us can support the concept of much-needed, additional affordable housing for our community.
The Flagler County Housing Authority is the local agency that administers the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program for very low-income families, the elderly and the disabled. This is commonly known as Section 8 housing. The city cannot interfere in this federal program — it would be illegal and discriminatory for us to do so.
Through this program, qualifying participants receive a rent subsidy to live in private rental properties. Landlords aren’t required to accept the vouchers — it’s up to them. But if they participate, the rentals must be inspected regularly and follow all federal standards. The program is strictly an agreement between private property owners (the landlords) and the federal government, coordinated through the Housing Authority. On the side of the prospective renter, the application process requires a criminal background check, and participants are not eligible if they have a record of violence or drug convictions within five years.
The city of Palm Coast does not have any Section 8 housing projects, and we have not received any proposals for such development. Countywide, including in Palm Coast, there are currently 350 individuals or families receiving Housing Choice vouchers, but those are all in private rental properties spread across the county.
The Florida Housing Finance Corp. offers an altogether different program where developers can get tax credits and low-interest loans if they agree to rent a certain percentage of their units to income-qualified renters. These households must be below the median income for our area and must pass a criminal background check and a credit check to qualify. There is always a waiting list to get into these units, and participants must abide by the same rules and regulations that apply to any renter.
Two of our newer apartment complexes in Palm Coast received tax credits and low-interest financing through this program. These are top-quality, well-maintained apartments with nice amenities. They have 24-hour, on-site central management and good security. A portion of the units are rented to income-qualified renters, but no one would know that if they were considering these properties.
These programs help some of our lowest-income residents. But there is still high demand for affordable housing for moderate-income people — and it’s only going to grow.
We rely on nurses, police officers, bank tellers, firefighters, teachers and many other public employees and other occupations to provide the services that provide a high quality of life for retirees and families alike. With an average starting rent of $1,200-$1,300 for a house in Palm Coast, it’s a struggle for these moderate-income employees to make it financially. Not to mention retirees who are on a fixed income.
A new wave of talent is coming to Palm Coast, and they need housing, too. The City Council is working hard to attract technology-related companies to Palm Coast, capitalizing on the city’s fiber network for high-speed internet and telecommunication services. We have established an Innovation District to offer incentives to develop our downtown Town Center area as a hub of high-tech companies, restaurants, entertainment and shopping experiences.
We are growing, and to attract and retain this talent pool, we need a robust array of housing options: condos, townhouses and apartments in addition to single-family homes.
High standards in Palm Coast
As our data for Fiscal Year 2018 shows, we still have single-family homes being permitted all throughout our city. I know that many of our residents have moved here from other parts of our country and world, where affordable housing sometimes looked a certain way.
The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office maps crime statistics, and there is no evidence that we have more crime in multi-family residential areas than we do in single-family neighborhoods. We will continue to monitor those trends closely.
But we are Palm Coast, a community built with high development standards and a commitment to strong public safety. As mayor, I want to assure you that is not going to change. All new housing — including affordable choices — will be built to our high standards.
Our Land Development Code has strict requirements for architectural design, landscaping standards, garages and parking. We are proud of the “wow factor” of our beauty with the trail system, our tree canopy and our beautiful parks. It’s who we are, and that isn’t going to change. In addition, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office maps crime statistics, and there is no evidence that we have more crime in multi-family residential areas than we do in single-family neighborhoods. We will continue to monitor those trends closely.
The City Council is committed to maintaining these high standards – to ensure all housing is high-quality, that our neighborhoods are safe and that we continue to enjoy our high quality of life.
So, please, I ask you to open your hearts and your minds to the concept of new, affordable housing for Palm Coast. We need young people to move here fresh out of college, we want our retirees to have good options for when they choose to downsize, and we must help our families to live here comfortably. The future of Palm Coast depends on it. I have every reason to believe it will make Palm Coast an even better place to live.
Milissa Holland is the mayor of Palm Coast.