DeFuniak Springs affordable housing project stalled

DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — For more than a year, several partially completed homes on Orange Avenue that could provide space for low-income families have stood empty with no sign of construction activity.

The Village Springs housing development in DeFuniak Springs was launched in late 2018 with a vision to make 50 units available to families seeking affordable housing – a growing need in Walton County.

However, the project has been stalled for over a year due to, among other things, stormwater and engineering issues. Meanwhile, affordable housing in Walton County has become even scarcer.

“It’s way off schedule,” said Harold Sample, executive director of Workforce Housing Ventures, the company in charge of the project.

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Storm water issues cause problems

The City of DeFuniak Springs issued a stop work order to the contractor, GHD Construction Services, on July 7, 2021. The order cited violations of the city’s code of ordinances regarding storm water and other drainage problems.

The city’s planning director was unavailable for comment. However, the project has been strewn with pitfalls since construction began. The sample said most of the problems stem from the property’s location on a steep hill.

Initial plans approved by the city in August 2018 called for a retention pond that would hold and distribute runoff to prevent flooding. However, Sample said the pond was collecting too much water and needed to be redesigned.

“The capacity of this had to be water adjusted to meet the stormwater needs for the water that was coming in,” he said. “The site work could therefore only be completed once the modifications to the retention basin and the configuration of the basin had been decided.

Work on the Village Springs subdivision in DeFuniak Springs was halted by a stop work order issued in 2021.

Sample said it took the engineer about six months to complete the changes after the problem was identified last year. The company is now awaiting a permit to restart construction.

However, Sample said it’s not just stormwater that has been a problem, as there are still other shortcomings that the contractor will need to address.

“The entrepreneur is not above reproach,” said Sample. “There were a lot of issues with the contractor… in between it all became a mess. But we hope it happens or we will take further action in the coming weeks.

Homes are empty and some are unfinished in the Village Springs subdivision in DeFuniak Springs.  A stop work order from the city was posted in 2021.

Need for affordable housing

Tom Baker, director of the Walton County Housing Agency, has long awaited the project’s completion. The agency provides housing assistance for low-income families through its HUD Section 8 program.

The Village Springs Housing Development is one of the few in the city that could be used to house some of the 184 people on the agency’s waiting list. By August, 45 families had received emergency housing vouchers.

“We have a real shortage of affordable housing in the DeFuniak Springs-Walton County area for low-income families, and as far as I know, this is one of the only developments that has happened in our community in the past. recent years. “, said Boulanger.

Michael Wallace fills a mixer with mortar while working on the Village Springs development in DeFuniak Springs in this September 2019 Daily News photo.

Only about 12 percent of families who receive vouchers in Walton County are able to find housing in the four months before their vouchers expire. Baker noted that 12% is a “very low number.”

“We have close to 50 families that are actually in a voucher right now and are looking for homes. So you can see how quickly we could get families into shelter if we had these units,” Baker said of the Village Springs project.

The project is primarily funded by the Florida Housing Finance Corporation through the HUD HOME Investment Partnerships Program, which helps fund housing projects for low-income families, typically in smaller, more rural areas.

“So basically we’re talking about affordable housing to the extent that rent rates are controlled under the HOME program,” said Sample, who added that some of the funding also comes from the PNB Community Bank.

All housing developed with HOME funds must serve low and very low income families. At least 90% of the units, which range from one- to three-bedroom homes, will benefit families with incomes at or below 60% of the region’s median income.

That would include anyone earning $40,434 or less in Walton County, based on US Census Bureau data.

According to Tom Baker, executive director of the Walton County Housing Authority, Village Springs, a new 50-unit multifamily complex being built on West Orange Avenue in DeFuniak Springs, should provide some relief to the area's affordable housing crisis.

Completion date postponed to 2023

“We understand that there is a very significant need for decent and affordable housing,” Sample said. “Mr Baker, he has a lot of Section 8 vouchers that he hasn’t been able to place. When this started in 2018, we as owners hoped that we were going to be able to supply him with 50 units.”

Many units already have roofs, doors and windows installed. However, there is still a lot of work to do. Sample said he hopes construction will resume in the coming weeks and have units ready for move-in by spring 2023.

“We intend to finish them,” he said. “We finally have this engineering, and we will have the contractor start immediately. We just apologize to the community that this project took so long to complete.

Baker said the project’s completion will bring much-needed relief to Walton County’s housing shortage, but it’s only a short-term solution.

More affordable housing projects will be needed to accommodate a growing number of families looking for housing in a shrinking market.

“Really, if we had these units today, we would be behind,” he said. “There just aren’t many homes to meet the need here for our HUD Section 8 program. Over the next year and a half, our community will grow tremendously, and I’m sure that need will increase quite a bit.

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