ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – A divided St. Johns County Commission voted against creating a county public housing authority during a meeting on Tuesday.
The vote comes as the county with a high cost of living is dealing with what some are calling a housing crisis.
Proponents of creating one said it would have helped the county get more money from the federal government. But other commissioners argued it would add another layer of bureaucracy and could change the character of the county.
“We have a crisis. We have a crisis in this county,” Commissioner Henry Dean said.
Dean made a passionate plea this week for the county to move forward with creating a public housing authority.
The county said having one would open up the chance for more grant money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, also known as HUD.
Dean argued that more money for affordable housing would help middle-to-low-income workers and the local economy.
Advocates also showed up to push for a housing authority.
“If anything helps us bring additional funding to our community, we need to be set up for it,” said Bill Lazar, Director of the St. Johns Housing Partnership.
But, newly elected commissioner Krista Joseph said the county can do just fine with the resources already in place.
“I do not agree with adding another layer of government. I feel that government should be a very narrow place in our lives,” Joseph said.
Joseph along with commissioners Roy Alaimo and Christian Whitehurst voted down the proposal.
Whitehurst has been outspoken in the past about getting more housing in the county for essential workers like teachers and firefighters but said creating a housing authority goes “a step too far.”
“I respect the heart, the intent behind trying to establish this housing authority, but when you start to bring Section 8 vouchers into a county that is number one in so many different categories, I think you run a risk there of changing the character of that county,” Whitehurst said.
Dean and Commissioner Sarah Arnold voted in favor.
For now, St. Johns County is an outlier.
There are 98 housing authorities in the state, the vast majority of the state, and the county said Jacksonville’s Housing Authority has received over $6 million in funds in recent years.
With the proposal shut down, the county plans to move forward with the affordable housing plans that are already in the pipeline including a recently approved 192-unit project off U.S. 1.