Attainable Housing Focus of Chamber Economic Development Breakfast

Attainable Housing Focus of Chamber Economic Development Breakfast

Creating affordable housing opportunities for essential workers – teachers, emergency services personnel as well as service sector employees – is a problem facing communities across the nation. The St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce wants to change the conversation, starting with the nomenclature. The organization’s latest Economic Development Breakfast offered members a deep dive into the issue from a pair of experts.

“We are branding all our focus under the title attainable housing,” said Scott Maynard, Chamber vice president of economic development. “The idea behind that is we feel like that no matter where you are on that economic scale, if you’re working in St. Johns County, you should be able to attain some form of housing in this county as well, to live where you work.”

Maynard said after speaking with chamber members it became apparent that a significant percentage of workers in local government, the healthcare industry, manufacturing and first responders live outside St. Johns County and have to commute to work.

“That causes additional traffic and additional hardships such as childcare,” Maynard said. “We saw this as an important issue we wanted to address and at least start coming up with a series of solutions.”

The program began with an overview of the issues of affordability and availability of attainable housing by Mark Nighbor, a consultant with long experience in sales and helping service organizations grow profitably.

Nighbor said his presentation was focused on providing insight on what workers experience when they try to live where they work. He said with the level of impact fees, insurance, property taxes, homeowners association fees and other costs, a lot of workers are priced out of the local housing market. Addressing the business owners in attendance, Nighbor said the solution goes beyond increasing worker pay.

“The ability to provide raises to fix this problem is not a viable solution,” he said.

Using a variety of charts and graphs, from the chamber’s Attainable Housing Coalition report, Nighbor showed how the supply of housing stock in the price range workers could afford has skewed toward more expensive homes.

“The supply of homes has skewed toward the higher range,” he said.

Nighbor said St. Johns County is not alone in facing the lack of attainable housing, adding that the solution will not be a simple fix.

“There is no silver bullet that is going to fix the problem,” he said.

Some of the possible solutions cited by Nighbor include government programs, builder and development incentives, and changes to land use regulations, comprehensive plans and zoning regulations to foster development of attainable housing stock.

The program continued with a presentation from Jerry Parrish, chief economist at the Metro Atlanta Chamber and former chief economist and director of research for the Florida Chamber Foundation.

Using examples of 1,200-square foot single family homes, Parrish highlighted the economic impact the construction of several thousands housing units over a five-year period on the community. He said building 5,000 attainable housing units in that timeframe would create nearly 1,500 jobs and provide local governments with $63 million in impact fees, and nearly $10 million annually in county and school property tax revenue.

“This is not a charity where you’re giving people free homes,” he said. “The county actually brings in income.”

Parrish said an attainable housing program would also promote job growth in the county. Citing data collected from a survey of local employers, he said 4,700 jobs could be filled if housing opportunities were available for workers.

“This is where the big economic impact comes,” he said. “It really is a way to diversify your economy.”

Wrapping up the breakfast event, Maynard said fixing the housing problem requires cooperation and collaboration.
“It is going to be a series of solutions that all levels and is going to require public and private input to make it happen,” he said.