The Alachua County Commission elected a new chairman and vice chairman at its special meeting on Tuesday before voting to use millions in federal aid in several initiatives, including a pilot program to help local homeowners make their more energy-efficient properties.
The Alachua County Commission selected outgoing Vice Chair Anna Prizcia to succeed Marihelen Wheeler as Chair and newly elected Commissioner Mary Alford to succeed Prizzia as Vice Chair.
The commission also voted unanimously to allocate $340,000 for a pilot housing program to help tenants in unincorporated Alachua County and smaller townships in the county with high energy and utility rates. .
The Affordable Housing Energy Efficiency and Weatherization Program aims to incentivize landlords to upgrade their properties to be more energy efficient, theoretically reducing utility costs and associated rent prices and saving tenants long term money.
The pilot program, which is expected to service and upgrade 15 households, will begin in January and run through August. The county will then evaluate program performance and vote on whether to approve the full initiative, which, combined with the pilot program, allocates $3 million to homeowners from January 2023 through December 2026.
Participating landlords will be required to agree not to increase their rents above the rate of inflation for the duration of the program. The maximum amount a homeowner can receive for a single property is $5,000 for a three-year affordability pledge, $10,000 for a five-year affordability pledge, and $15,000 for a three-year affordability pledge. seven-year affordability.
Community activist Kali Blount, who sits on the Gainesville Police Advisory Board, criticized the affordability covenant terms for landlords, calling them pitiful. Blount said the terms were not enough to support tenants and that terms of 10, 15 or 20 years would be better to properly support families living in rental properties.
Blount criticized the commission for providing funds to landlords when they have not provided enough for their tenants for years. Blount said the initiative in its current form is worthless.
The county’s report on the initiative, included in the meeting agenda, cited recent and expected increases in energy prices from the county’s major utility providers as evidence that the project is needed. That includes data from Gainesville Regional Utilities, Clay Electric Cooperative and Duke Energy, the latter of which said it expects its customers to see a 13% cost increase in 2023, according to the county report.
The funds are primarily intended for properties in select low-income communities in the county, in accordance with federal guidelines, particularly specific communities in designated qualifying census tracts established by the federal government. Communities in these areas are automatically eligible to participate in the program. Municipalities in much of western Alachua County, including Archer, Newberry, and High Springs, are not included in census tracts.
Households that are not in census tracts can still apply to the county for the initiative if they are in receipt of one of 11 federal benefit programs, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the additional nutritional assistance and Pell grants.
Households located within the city limits of Gainesville are not eligible to participate in the initiative. Newly elected Commissioner Ken Cornell has expressed interest in expanding the program to Gainesville, including East Gainesville, to alleviate the city’s housing problems.
Tamara Robbins, another community activist, criticized the suggestion of including Gainesville in the project. She said the county would once again prioritize the city over the county’s smaller municipalities, which she said have been routinely ignored in favor of programs primarily benefiting Gainesville.
Robbins also expressed concern about the county’s community engagement efforts for the project. Households not included in qualifying census tracts should be aware of the initiative to apply instead of being automatically included, as households located in tracts are, Robbins said.
The two measurable success indicators of the pilot program, as listed in the report, are to reduce the energy load of at least 15 energy-insecure rental households and to avoid negative health effects and hospitalizations. related to COVID-19 due to a lack of affordable housing.
The county is partnering with two local nonprofits with experience in housing issues, Rebuilding Together North Central Florida and the Community Weatherization Coalition, on the initiative. According to the report, both nonprofits currently have methods in place to track participant demographics, which will be key to measuring the success of the pilot program.
Information about the initiative will be disseminated through methods already practiced by the Community Weatherization Coalition, including attending public events in eligible neighborhoods and leveraging networks built by the coalition and other community partners. using word of mouth, social media and websites, according to the departmental report.
The county is independently rolling out new energy efficiency standards for rental units in unincorporated areas of the county and will work with code enforcement to provide program information directly to landlords whose units are not performing well. the initial energy efficiency inspection.
The county hopes to have the program underway by Jan. 16.
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