Priced out of Jax: Affordable housing crisis worsens with pandemic

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Local families are being priced out of Jacksonville and can’t afford to rent or buy homes.

The average cost of a house in Northeast Florida has doubled over the past decade, according to data from the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors.

Meanwhile, there’s about 41,000 low-income renter households in Jacksonville paying more than 40% of their income on housing.

Action News Jax’s Robert Grant visited the Jacksonville Housing Authority, where several people were signing up for Section 8 and public housing.

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Carla Jennings, a Jacksonville resident on disability, is one of about 11,000 people in Jacksonville on the growing Section 8 waitlist. In 2018, that number was down to about 6,000.

“I’m disabled and [rent] took up my whole check so I have nothing to actually live off,” she said.

According to statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor, rent surged 36% over the past decade. In Jacksonville, the average three bedroom apartment cost about $1,100 and is now about $1,400.

“That’s just a failure. No matter how hard you work, you’re not going to afford housing,” Shannon Nazworth, the CEO of Ability Housing, said.

The local nonprofit builds or acquires apartment and single-family homes to create affordable communities in Jacksonville. They currently operate six facilities in Jacksonville and three in Central Florida.

“Unfortunately, we had an affordable housing crisis before the pandemic. It is going to be that much worse after the pandemic,” she said.

She met Grant at the Village of Hyde Park on the Westside where 80 families live. More than 1,500 Floridians had a safe place to call home last year because of Ability Housing.

She said Jacksonville’s new construction is focused on higher-end apartments. “While we have a boom. It is not addressing the affordable housing need.”

It’s a problem of high demand and little supply, which leaves realtors to set the price, Dwayne Alexander said. He’s the CEO of the Jacksonville Housing Authority.

“Jacksonville is a symptom of what’s going on across the country.”

JHA is currently undergoing a transformation and Alexander said he’s trying to change the perception of public housing.

The organization currently houses just less than 30,000 families with 2,800 public housing units and 8,300 Section 8 vouchers.

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The $1.9 trillion COVID Relief Bill includes $5 billion that will go toward helping residents pay for housing with a voucher. Alexander said he’s not sure yet how much will go to JHA, but expects to know more in May.

Jennings said a positive answer on her Section 8 request could put her on the path to solve her financial troubles.

“You have car insurance, you have personal needs, and you have groceries,” she said. “They’re basic everyday needs and it’s hard to meet your needs when your money isn’t changing but everything else is.”