At every city meeting, in every major publication, affordable housing, or the lack of it, is a big subject of discussion. And it’s worse here than in most of the country.
A recent Harvard University study reported that the South Florida metro area has above-average housing costs and below-average incomes. While South Florida’s rental stock has increased 24 percent in the past 10 years, the share of units renting for $1,000 a month or less has declined by 12 percent.
Not just renters are struggling. The report shows that more than a third of owner households in South Florida exceed 30 percent of their incomes when it comes to housing expenses. Combine that with Hollywood’s preponderance of older homes and we’ve got a full-blown housing crisis affecting both groups. According to the article, only New York, Los Angeles and Bridgeport, Conn., are worse.
What’s a city to do?
Here in Hollywood, where home values are slightly lower than other coastal south Florida cities but quickly on the rise, the City government and supporting agencies are both building new, affordable housing and helping homeowners and renters bring their living quarters up to better standards.
The newly formed City Office of Communication, Marketing and Economic Development has begun a new Business Retention and Expansion Program, designed to attract businesses to the city, and increase jobs and wages for local workers. Various programs such as Operation Paintbrush help homeowners with care and upkeep at low to no cost. But incomes still are not rising as fast as real estate, mortgage rates, insurance, maintenance costs and rents.
In Hollywood, where lots of people want to live, we typically see low rental vacancy rates which drive rents even higher, and many people just getting by, who never even see themselves as potential homeowners. Low-income housing, while sheltering them in the short term, can become a crutch.
“It’s not a perfect system,” stated Shiv Newaldass, Chief Development Officer for the Office of the Hollywood City Manager. “The public Housing program has defects, because it can create almost an incentive to remain in that demographic, as you don’t want to lose your great rental deal.
“The right way is to do different types of affordable housing,” he continued. “There’s a way to do affordable home ownership, a full continuum — transitional, for when people need additional care, to rentals to home ownership — that enables people to move up the socioeconomic ladder. “
BUILDING/REBUILDING THE CITY
The City of Hollywood has a variety of programs to help people become homeowners, and to help existing homeowners protect their investments.
“There’s the NSP, the Neighborhood Stabilization Program,” explained Community Development Manager Clay Milan, referring to a HUD program established by Congress for the purpose of stabilizing communities that have suffered from foreclosures and abandonment. The program provides funds to purchase and renovate these homes and sell them to people living in the community.
“These are set up as zero percent deferred loans, which never need to be repaid until the property is sold. They provide money for down payment and closing cost assistance via second mortgages, which make it possible for a person to purchase a property and attain home ownership which might not otherwise be possible.”
Milan noted that this program historically has worked very well, with little to no foreclosures or issues. Newaldass confirmed this, stating that in a similar program in Washington DC, studies showed that the foreclosure rate was reported at only 2%, substantially below the national average.
“I’ve seen people leverage their equity to start new businesses, to go back to school and do other things,” added Newaldass. “It’s a really good tool to help people move up.”
In addition, the city (and the federal government, which provides monies managed and distributed by the city) has provided similar funding — interest-free loans that do not have to be paid back until the house is sold — to tear down houses in Hollywood that have become so old to have been declared obsolete and replace them with new, updated and functional homes. The US Census estimates that the median age of a home in Hollywood is 50 years, which is 11 years older than the County average and 18 years older than the State median.
Milan reports the following accomplishments: In 2017, through these programs, the City of Hollywood:
Acquired four foreclosed homes, then rehabilitated and resold them to eligible households.
Funded five new replacement homes – two were completed, two are under construction and one is in permitting.
Completed 22 housing rehabilitation projects.
Provided $171,000 of grant funding to support the local Community Housing Development Organization’s construction of two affordable single-family dwellings in Liberia and Washington Park.
Provided temporary rent assistance to twenty-two households.
Henry L. Graham is the Executive Director of LES, Liberia Economics and Social Development, Inc., a not-for-profit Community Development Corporation providing an array of services to the low to moderate income members of the community, with a special focus on affordable housing. He’s personally been involved in the planning and building of several of Hollywood’s affordable developments.
Graham worked with builder Pinnacle and the city on the development and rebuilding of Crystal Lake, right across the street from his office on North 24th Avenue, and with builder Link Construction on the Washington Park Villas on Wiley Street, which he now manages. He was also the developer of Crispus Commons, a series of single-family homes on Evans Street and Southwest 12th Avenue, and is now about to break ground on Crispus Commons II, 12 townhouses across the street, which is soon to be built in partnership with BAND, the Broward Alliance for Neighborhood Development.
Graham plans to have all his new projects set up as rentals with options to buy.
“It gives us the opportunity to really evaluate the potential buyers, and helps us stabilize the growth of the community,” he stated.
Most of all, Graham agrees with Milan and Newaldass about education.
“When it comes to LMI — Low to Moderate Income — housing, we’re talking about a particular kind of education. We manage the Washington Park Villas on Wiley Street, and we’re setting up a mandatory meeting with all the tenants to teach them about priorities. Many of these people cannot meet their own immediate obligations. They have their rent, and then their things that come with it, lights, water, a vehicle if they have one — and then they’re struggling because all it takes is one hiccup and you can’t make all your payments. And you want the landlord to understand why you can’t make your rent. They’re caught between a rock and hard place, and we will do everything we can before we bite the bullet and evict them, but sometimes they make bad choices. So we’re having a tenant/landlord meeting, the reason being they have to learn, some of them, that they have to put things in priority form, you don’t buy things that you cannot afford. I have to explain that your rent has to be your priority, not a brand new car or all the channels on cable tv. And that when things break, they have to be fixed. We need to maintain these properties in order to avoid repeating the same problems.
“And then,” he added, “There are those who have inherited homes and they don’t pay their taxes. They need to be educated on how to not lose their family homes.
“We came here really to do social service,” he continued. “And the people said, we need decent housing. The city plays a vital part in getting this housing built. And we always get the neighbors involved because including the community in an development is to create security.”
Keeping a city sheltered is a great challenge, but Hollywood is up to the task. Four major affordable developments — Pinnacle at Peacefield (for low-income seniors), Washington Park Villas, Crispus Commons 1 and 2, and Crystal Lake — are either up and running or in development stages, and there are many programs in place, as discussed above, to help homeowners pay rent, buy, fix or even rebuild their homes.
“We do about 30 of those a year,” stated Milan. “The new houses plus the rehabilitation we do, which help preserve affordability as long as they remain in it.”
Henry Graham believes that homeownership is important to continue to build community strength.
“Many landlords and owners do not live in the immediate neighborhoods,” he stated, referring particularly to LMI areas. “Their concern is not as great as those who are continuously fighting for true community pride. And that’s all I’ve been trying to do.”
“I think that homeownership certainly elevates a neighborhood,” agreed Newaldass, “and if you have an investment in the community, economic development spurs out of these programs, allows properties to come up to compliance in an affordable manner, so it’s really important that we can continue doing this.“
Hollywood’s Affordable Housing Options
Crystal Lake Rentals
This beautiful, gated, 190 unit rental community within the historic Liberia neighborhood in the City of Hollywood was originally a development of the Broward County Housing Authority. The buildings had fallen into such disrepair that they were razed and rebuilt in 2007 through a joint venture between Pinnacle Housing Group and the Broward County Housing Authority (via its affiliated non-profit, Building Better Communities).
This was a Low-Income Housing Tax Credit project. The City Commission approved financing for the new development in 2006. Section 3 was a component of these projects, meaning that local subcontractor participation, as well as minority subcontractor participation, was required.
With its distinctive Spanish Mission architecture, Crystal Lake became the focal point for the significant redevelopment of Liberia, and was recognized by the National Civic League, which named Hollywood as an All America City(R) in 2007.
Once the community was built, 10 rental townhouses were added on the perimeter. The community is no longer managed by Pinnacle but by Building Better Communities.
Crispus Commons I and II
Crispus Commons, a row of privately-owned single-family homes on Evans Street and Southwest 12th Avenue in Liberia, was a development of Henry Graham and Liberia Economic and Social Development, Inc. (LES). The same group is now about to break ground on Crispus Commons II, 12 townhouses right across the street from the original development, which will be built in partnership with BAND, the Broward Alliance for Neighborhood Development, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to providing housing to low- and moderate-income people.
The proposed project is in the final stages of the development approval process. It’s on the March 8 Planning and Development Board meeting agenda for approval of site plan and design.
Each of the new townhouses is set to include three bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, and a one-car garage, with between 1,400 and 1,600 square feet of living space. Basic amenities include ceramic tile floors, Energy Saver appliances, central air and heat, backyard, private entry and room to park 2 cars.
While there is lots of buyer interest, the units are being built “on spec” and will be sold to eligible low- and middle-income buyers later on in the process, possibly as rent-to-own or by utilizing some of the government programs described here.
Washington Park Villas
Washington Park Villas is a Key West-style complex on Wiley Street and 56th Avenues. which is managed by LES, Inc., (Liberia Economics and Social Development Inc), and Henry Graham, and includes 33 rental apartments, duplexes, townhouses and single-family homes, plus a community center. Built by Link Construction Group in 2012, these rentals are available to households making 50% – 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI), depending upon the unit.
The project was federally funded and required Section 3 subcontractor participation as well as minority subcontractor participation.
Townhouses and Single Family Homes at Washington Park Villas
Pinnacle at Peacefield — Affordable Rentals for Seniors
In January of 2017, the Hollywood Commission joined in an agreement with Pinnacle Housing Group and the City of Hollywood to provide a local government loan for the development of an affordable senior rental housing project on 5 ½ acres on Adams Street from Dixie Highway to South 24th Avenue.
The project, called Pinnacle at Peacefield, (named after the Presidents Adam’s family home, Peacefield) is totally on track.
“The overwhelming support of the local government played a big part in our getting approved for this project,” explained Pinnacle regional VP Timothy Wheat. Pinnacle had actually applied for the project several times before being approved this time. Pinnacle had also been the builder, or in reality the re-builder, of the Crystal Lake development in Liberia after it had been declared unlivable and had to be razed and reconstructed.
According to Wheat, Pinnacle at Peacefield will be comprised of three non-contiguous buildings, each with its own common areas, services and amenities including libraries, card rooms, computer/internet lounge, fitness center with private areas for medical screenings, some types of outdoor fitness areas, and senior programming, including health classes and other activities designed uniquely for seniors to get to know their neighbors and promote the social aspect of independent senior living. The development will include 120 apartments — 72 one-bedrooms and 48 two-bedrooms — plus open space and 157 parking spaces.
There will be an application process which will be announced well in advance of the completion of the building. While a preference for Hollywood residents is desired, fair housing rules prohibit preferences granted based solely on geography. However, the project is for seniors and will have income level restrictions.
If everything goes according to plan, Peacefield by Pinnacle should be ready for physical move-in by summer of 2020. “It’s an aggressive timetable, but we feel pretty confident that we can make it,” added Wheat.
What Pinnacle aims to do, he continued, is to make the “affordable” housing virtually indistinguishable, at least from the outside, from “market-rate” housing. In the case of Peacefield, much of the interior finishing will be indistinguishable as well.
“The buildings will be built to the highest quality standards, with hard-surface flooring, EnergyStar appliances, and more. Pinnacle at Peacefield will have the look and feel of a market rate community that offers an active senior lifestyle, for less than $800 a month rent for a one-bedroom apartment and less than $1000 for a two. We’ve worked closely with the city as well as local community groups to make it a place with all the things that the community wants “
For information on Crystal Lake Rentals and the application process, call 954 920 2620. For information on Washington Park Villas or Crispus Commons II, call Henry Graham at LES on 954 924 3635 or email to [email protected] . For information on other programs, please contact the City of Hollywood.