City leaders in St. Augustine meet, discuss affordable workforce housing

Housing costs are up significantly

File photo showing old colonial section of the city was taken on July 29, 2013 (WJXT 2020)

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The St. Augustine City Commission met Monday to discuss affordable workforce housing and figure out solutions to the housing cost increase.

Just like Jacksonville, St. Augustine is facing high rent prices that are causing a trickle-down effect.

The rising cost of living is because of the city’s popularity, according to David Bircham, head of the St. Augustine planning and building department.

Related: I-TEAM: Rent increases in Jacksonville are among the highest in the country

“There is a basically a waiting list of people waiting to come into the county, which makes prices very high for homes and when real estate prices go up, that doesn’t just affect the prices of new houses, it affects the prices of all houses,” said Birchim.

Businesses are struggling to hire low-wage workers, having the restaurant industry getting hit the hardest.

A little over two years ago we spoke with a St. Augustine Dairy Queen that had to temporarily shut down because of how difficult it was to find reliable workers. The shop is still closed.

Related: I-TEAM: Landlords respond to rising rents, say they are struggling too

The Jacksonville metro area is the ninth fastest-rising rent in the country beating out popular cities like Orlando and Tampa according to real estate brokerage firm Redfin. Florida housing prices have shot up in the national ranking overtaking states like Minnesota and Connecticut.

St Augustine city leaders are meeting to discuss affordable housing for people who work in the county. Homes are more expensive to buy, and apartments are more expensive to rent, and it seems like everything is costing more.

Some of the possible solutions may include:

  • Developing affordable housing on city property
  • Provide incentives for the private sector to develop affordable housing
  • Housing or transportation subsidies for city workers

During the hours-long special workshop, some concerned residents pointed out the varied needs of the population, from homeless people to the large number of employees in the hospitality industry.

“All these folks need a place to live that will leave them enough income to provide for other basic needs of life, including food, transportation and health care,” said resident Victoria Pepper. “Given the range of needs in our community, there’s no one size fits all solution to this problem.”

“I’d like to remind everyone we all need affordable housing, it’s just our personal definition of that number that’s different,” said Shannon Nazworth, CEO of Ability Housing. “Really, that is the goal and that is why Ability Housing really is here. We’re trying to fill the gap between what the market can and can’t do.”

Ability Housing, along with the St. Johns Housing Partnership and the St. Augustine and St. Johns County Board of Realtors made presentations at the workshop.

On Tuesday, the St. Johns County Board of Commissioners is asking for the public’s input as it holds a workshop on growth management.

About the Authors:

This native of the Big Apple joined the News4Jax team in July 2021.

At WJXT for a quarter of a century, Mary Baer anchors the 5, 6 and 10 p.m. news weekdays.