‘Rents outpace wages’ for 1/3 of Nassau County’s workers

A draft report outlining the need for more affordable housing options in Nassau County says nearly half of renters and more than one-third of homeowners with mortgages in the county are “cost-burdened.” That means they are paying more than 30 percent of their household incomes on housing, the standard guideline for affordability.

The needs assessment study, conducted by The Shimberg Center at the University of Florida was recently shared at a meeting of the county’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee. It was jointly funded by Nassau County and Fernandina Beach.

The study broke the county into three regions: the first included Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island, the second included Yulee and central parts of the county and the third region was western Nassau County including Hilliard and Callahan. Each region was further broken down into subsections. Issues with housing affordability and availability were identified in all three regions.

The report noted, “Rents outpace wages for several of the county’s top industries. Accommodation and Food Services and Retail Trade are the county’s top sectors for employment, comprising one-third of the county’s 22,304 jobs. Both industries pay less on average than the wage needed to afford a one-bedroom apartment at HUD Fair Market Rent ($775/month).”

Two local real estate agents sitting on the Advisory Committee commented that renters would be hard pressed to find anything available at that rate in the county and recommended the final report use actual Nassau County rents rather than national standards.

Amelia Island was identified as the central focus of low-to-moderate-wage jobs. At the same time, the island has the highest housing costs. A lack of affordable housing on the island means increased daily traffic and parking congestion to accommodate workers driving from other areas of the county and outside of the county. When workforce traffic flow is superimposed over tourist traffic, the true magnitude of the problem becomes apparent. The Amelia Island Tourist Development Council recently reported there were 685,000 overnight visitors to the island last year.

At least one Florida county is taking a new approach to affordable housing for low-wage employees. Advisory Committee member and developer Greg Mantovini shared that “Collier County is trying to raise $20 million from the private sector for housing. For example, they would be going to the Omni and the Ritz here and other employers, targeting them one by one (to raise funds to house their employees).”

Many more renters than homeowners report a single household income. Based on 2016 figures, the median annual household income of renters
in the county is less than half that of homeowners with mortgages ($34,908 versus $80,665), yet the difference between median rent and median mortgage payments differed by only $441.

The report found the housing market countywide “heavily dominated by (single-family) homes with little multifamily (development).”

While there has been a boom in housing growth, most of it in the eastern and central sections, almost all the growth has been in single-family units. The report cited “most growth has been in unaffordable sales, many to investors and second home buyers.”

According to the study, “There are more households (in need) than affordable units countywide. … The western region has sufficient affordable units but insufficient availability since low-to-moderate income renters have to compete with those with higher incomes.”

The calculation of the number of affordable units needed is pending, and will be based on the committee’s decision as to what percentage of annual median income they wish the study to reflect. The preliminary minimum number of
units projected is in excess of 1,000.

The study found that most of the current affordable housing in the county is being provided though individual mobile homes on 6,115 parcels scattered through the central and western parts of the county. The real estate agents on the Advisory Committee questioned whether mobile homes will continue to be an affordable resource given some are now selling in excess of $100,000. Furthermore, the committee discussed the safety of mobile homes in hurricane-prone Florida.

The report presented at the October AHAC meeting was only a draft of the Shimberg Center study. The final report is anticipated to be available for review at the committee’s next meeting on Dec. 19. The November meeting was cancelled because of its proximity to the Thanksgiving holiday.

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