ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – New housing projects are popping up all over St. Johns County, one of the fastest-growing counties in the country.
But a new project approved this week by county commissioners has a specific goal in mind — to provide more homes for people who work as teachers and first responders.
The new project approved for the West Augustine neighborhood is part of an initiative that aims to build hundreds of new affordable homes for the workforce in the county as home and rental prices continue to skyrocket.
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According to a report released last week, the median price for a home in St. Johns County is $467,000. That’s a 16% jump from last month.
That’s a problem for many workers in the county, according to St. Johns County Commissioner Henry Dean.
“Because we have so many workers, both public and private, that just cannot afford a $467,000 home,” Dean said.
To help address the issue, Dean and the commission unanimously approved a new workforce housing project in West Augustine that is part of a pilot program.
The 106-home project was unanimously approved and will be called Kings Crossing in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who famously crossed through the predominantly Black neighborhood during the Civil Rights movement. The project will include at least 43, 1,300-square foot townhomes that can be sold for no more than $240,000. That’s less expensive than what is defined as “affordable housing,” which is usually $30,000 to $40,000 more, according to West Augustine Steering Committee Chairman Robert Nimmons
The county’s initiative aims to build 600 workforce homes across the county by offering economic incentives to developers as long as 40% of the homes are priced in reach for people or families making around $70,000 a year.
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“The pilot project has been very successful, in my opinion, because in the last two years, we’ve done four major projects that fall into this category,” Dean said.
Nimmons said the newly approved West Augustine project is an important project for his underserved neighborhood that will help economically and improve water and sewer services in the area.
“Bringing in workforce houses is always a good thing, especially in a community where we serve so many residents that are looking for affordability. Workforce, it kind of caters to our firefighters, our police officers and our school teachers,” Nimmons said.
Nimmons said the West Augustine Steering Committee is also looking at about 140 parcels it owns in the neighborhood to see if it can get builders and developers to build affordable family homes so that residents won’t get pushed out in the community for the overpriced housing. He said he doesn’t want to see the gentrification that has happened in Lincolnville, another historically Black neighborhood, happen in West Augustine.
Dean said he wants to push for more projects across the county to help provide more workforce housing during what some are calling a housing crisis in Florida.
“So, hopefully, some of these hard workers that we desperately need, we can provide a reasonable alternative, where they’re only spending maybe 30% of their disposable income on housing, rather than 50 or 60%, which is basically impossible to make it work. So that’s why so many are commuting from outlying areas,” Dean said.
Dean said he wants to expand the workforce housing program from the current 600 units to 1,000 or 1,500 homes, but any increase in the program would first have to be approved by the commission.