Low-income residents struggle to find affordable housing in Gainesville, and rent costs have continued to rise, according to UF Shimberg Center for Housing Studies, which is a center that researches housing policy and planning, including housing affordability for Florida residents.
Alachua County’s median housing cost is $1,408 per month, which is the highest out of all counties in the North Central Florida area, according to the 2019 American Community Survey.
The Alachua County primary election is taking place Aug. 18, and registered Democrats will have the opportunity to vote for their party candidates while registered Republicans will vote for their party candidates who are running for the Alachua County Commission Districts 1 and 3. The Alligator asked the candidates how they would address the affordable housing issue in Gainesville, if chosen for office.
Mike Byerly, 56, a Democratic candidate for the 1st District Alachua County Commission election, did not respond to multiple attempts for a comment before publication.
Jason Stanford, 44, a Democratic candidate for the 3rd District Alachua County Commission election, said he is disappointed to see the housing conversation revolving around luxury student housing in Gainesville.
He believes the housing crisis goes beyond the student condos being built on University Avenue, or surrounding the UF campus.
“The reality of the situation is that housing is a nationwide crisis, and it is not unique to Alachua County,” Stanford said.
“I believe it is okay to have expensive, luxury apartments that are close to the university,” Stanford said. “The other option is to build out, and we know that’s a terrible idea”
Instead, Stanford said that 10 percent of new buildings, like the ones on University Avenue, need to be set aside for people with low incomes.
“There is not a shortage of housing in Gainesville, or in Alachua County, I think there is a shortage of affordable housing,” Stanford said.
Anna Prizzia, 42, a Democratic candidate for the 3rd District Alachua County Commission election, said she agrees there is a lack of affordable housing.
“In particular, I mean housing that is not just affordable in terms of being only a little bit less expensive than the status quo, but housing that is for low-income families that are struggling to make ends meet,” Prizzia said.
She said there has been a rapid redevelopment of historically Black neighborhoods throughout Gainesville, and they are not affordable for historical residents.
Gainesville activists marched from City Hall to Seminary Lane on June 18 to protest against a student apartment complex being built on Northwest Fifth Avenue and 12th Street, a historically Black neighborhood.
“We need to be ensuring we have affordable housing while protecting the historic character, the neighborhoods, and the communities who have lived here for generations,” Prizzia said.
Climate change also needs to be a core part of the commission’s thought process and decision making in future development plans, she added.
Prizzia said she plans to repair Alachua County’s roads and infrastructure to be able to respond to larger storms, more water and higher wind speed in preparation for climate disruption.
Kevin Thorpe, 46, a Democrat candidate for the 3rd District Alachua County Commission election, said he believes the issue of affordable housing can be broken down into two parts: providing housing assistance for families that have been displaced, and making certain that there is an inventory for the prices of homes that match people’s income levels.
Thorpe said that both of these areas need to be addressed in Alachua County.
The influx of new student housing, he said, has created a vacuum in the community, and the commission should change their way of looking at local employees who live outside of Alachua County.
“More than 50 percent of the county’s workforce does not reside anywhere in the county, and are commuting in,” Thorpe said.
Thorpe said the influx of non-residents driving to work in Alachua County is also an environmental concern, considering the number of hours and trips this creates for commuters.
Mary Alford, 59, a Democratic candidate for the 1st District Alachua County Commission election, said there are already too many people without a home in the county, and she does not want to make that problem any worse.
She said property values of complexes near campus have risen, so the dirt the apartments sit on has become more valuable than the actual buildings.
“We want people to be able to maximize the value of their property, because when they can do that, they are more likely to hang onto it, and not sell it to an investor,” Alford said.
She believes there are two possible solutions to solving the current housing crisis in Gainesville.
“We can let investors continue to buy properties, and they can build high rise buildings, and we can require them to have a certain percentage of that be available for affordable housing,” Alford said.
Having affordable housing units available would allow UF to have employees that can maintain a higher standard of living, Alford explained.
Other universities have established housing initiatives to ensure employees have housing close by, she said, and UF has not done this.
“The second solution would be to maintain the fabric of our neighborhoods, by allowing people to maximize the value of their own property,” Alford said.
On a county level, Alford would like to look at the capacity levels of apartments close to the UF campus.
“If we had a way to penalize people for not keeping their apartments at some level of occupancy, it would put downward pressure on rent,” Alford said.
Raemi Eagle-Glenn, 40, a Republican candidate for the 1st District Alachua County Commission election, said that the housing issue stems from the lack of living-wage jobs for the Alachua County community.
“And the reason why we don’t have living-wage jobs is because of the anti-growth policies of the current county commission,” Eagle-Glenn said.
Rather than stopping urban development projects, Eagle-Glenn plans to build farther out from UF and downtown.
“The current county commission would call that sprawl, but I would call that opportunity,” Eagle Glenn said.
She believes that outward development will allow for affordable housing for the people belonging to historically black communities in Alachua County.
Eagle-Glenn explained that the current Gainesville policy, which is to build on top of centers with high activity, or existing urban centers, causes gentrification, which is the transformation of an area from low to high value, and pushes out the historic population.
“The Black community has been vocal about this because affordable housing has been torn down,” Eagle Glenn said. “Instead of affordable housing going back into these areas, it is becoming high-end student housing.”
Joy Glanzer, 64, a Republican candidate for 3rd District Alachua County Commission, said she hated seeing the ‘student ghetto’, or area around UF, be torn down.
Glanzer explained that there are a number of students who need to have affordable housing, but the construction of new, luxury student housing precludes these students from getting something closer to campus.
Glanzer is a real estate broker, and she struggles to meet client’s requests of housing in the $800 range.
“There must be some mechanism that the county can require some percentage of new construction apartments or single-family homes to be affordable,” she said. “People just don’t have anywhere to live -- there are no options.”