Gainesville Is Experiencing An Affordable Housing Crisis. Here’s How One Woman Became Part Of It


Lisa Stidham’s grandmother used to pay the rent in their home in Tampa until she died in February.

Then, Stidham, 37, her 12-year-old daughter and former fiance were evicted. They went packing to a Motel 6 on Newberry Road, to a shelter next and then her truck.

“It’s been a very tough last couple of months for our lives,” she said.

Stidham is one of thousands in Gainesville looking for affordable housing. After an accident at a trip to the beach in Tampa three years ago, a foot sprain turned into Charcot arthropathy, a permanent disability she said stemmed from her diabetes. She could no longer work and only intended to moved in with her grandmother years ago until her first Social Security check came in the mail. It has yet to come.

After Stidham and her family were evicted, her former fiance – the family’s sole breadwinner – found a job in Gainesville, but they soon learned that the job and their motel stay would be temporary.

Stidham applied for affordable housing through the Gainesville Housing Authority, but was one of over 4,000 people in the city put on a waiting list. Then, through Grace Marketplace she met with a social worker and applied for housing assistance. In about two days, she was denied because she had not been an Alachua County resident for 30 days.

The Gainesville City Commission is having to start over in its search for a solution. On Thursday night, about 100 people showed up to speak against a comprehensive plan amendment known as GNV RISE.

Commissioners voted against taking action until it starts a new series of workshops in 2019.

Gainesville City Planner Andrew Persons talks to Davonda Brown, a 57-year-old Gainesville resident about the now-defeated affordable housing plan known as GNV RISE at the city’s community sessions. (Christina Morales/WUFT News)

The affordable housing plan is part of a larger housing affordability strategy city officials are considering. This also includes help from nonprofits and a community land trust that would offer households in need the opportunity to buy homes, said Andrew Persons, a planner in the city’s Department of Doing.

“It’s a really pernicious problem, and there’s not going to be a silver bullet that’s going to be the solution,” Persons said. “It’s going to take a great many solutions all pushing in that direction.”

The GNV RISE program is an optional set of standards to create opportunities for new market-rate developments to mix with affordable units in different neighborhoods, Persons said. Ten percent of the new units would have needed to meet the city’s affordability goals — a calculation based on a percentage of the county’s median income that works out to about a $900 monthly rent — and landlords would not be allowed to let the units to fall into disrepair.
“We want affordable housing to be dispersed throughout the community, so it’s not necessarily concentrated in one side of the city or in another side of the city, but it’s available to everybody in every neighborhood,” Persons said.

As a reward for developers, the city would cut some of the traditional red tape involved in the development process, Persons said. These include waiving requirements for doing expensive traffic studies or low-impact design of new streets with less pavement or using alternative materials.

“We didn’t get to this gap in our affordable units overnight and it’s not going to be an overnight fix,” Persons said. “This is something that’s going to be a long-term effort by the city – but it’s a valuable one, and it’s something we need to increase opportunity for everyone who lives in our community, regardless of income.”

Because of community backlash in October, the city held four community workshops to dispel misunderstandings the community might’ve had. These include permit increases to building heights, allowing apartment buildings to be built in single-family zoning, allow live-work homes to provide retail or services in single family homes and more.

The general consensus among area residents who attended was the lack of community involvement when presenting the plan. At one of the affordable housing sessions, Sharon Bauer, 70, said she wanted the same opportunity to hear about the plan as afforded to developers.

“It’s a developer’s wishlist,” Bauer, a Gainesville resident, said.

Francine Sutton, 31, came to the community sessions about GNV RISE to learn more about affordable housing in Gainesville. She moved to the city last year and said she was concerned about the lack of affordable housing for professionals. “When I first moved to Gainesville, I thought I was going to have to sleep in my car,” Sutton said. (Christina Morales/WUFT News)

Because they couldn’t find affordable housing, Stidham said her family had to split up in three different places. Stidham was staying with a friend in Tampa, her daughter was living and going to school in a different state, and her former fiance was beginning a job in Gainesville. Stidham and her daughter have reunited and are living with another friend of hers in Hillsborough County, but the pair are still homeless.

“I should write a book about my bad luck or else I wouldn’t have any luck at all,” Stidham said.

Before they were separated, Stidham said, the family lived in their truck for a week and went to Grace Marketplace to eat and shower and churches for granola bars. Her daughter couldn’t attend school without an address in the county; she went to another state to live with a relative.

“She doesn’t live the life a 12-year-old should be living,” Stidham said.

The affordability problem in Gainesville comes from a mixture of things – the cost to build housing, effects from the 2008 recession, salaries not keeping pace with the cost of housing and a general lack of affordable units, said Pamela Davis, the executive director of the Gainesville Housing Authority.

Davis said there’s a high likelihood for someone being unable to meet their basic needs if they’re paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing, as many in Gainesville are.

“It’d be very unlikely if something happened you would not lose your housing,” Davis said.
“You would not have the discretionary income to take care of your basic needs.”

Melissa Lira Oehl, 32, with her infant son Daryke. She and her family moved into a four bedroom home in Gainesville and are paying $1,700 a month. But, the family is scraping by. (Christina Morales/WUFT News)

Melissa Lira Oehl struggles to scrape $1,700 for the monthly rent for her four-bedroom Gainesville home. She said her mom lives with her and helps contribute $600 and a friend who’s a truck driver contributes around $200 to help pay their cell phone bills. That leaves Oehl and her husband to find $1,100 every month.

Lira Oehl, 32, helps her husband manage their IT business, but sometimes that doesn’t bring in enough. Her husband is a “jack of all trades,” working odd jobs or selling appliances. He’s even part of a lactose intolerance study that would bring in more than $2,000.

For Lira Oehl, solving the affordable housing crisis requires better-paying jobs. As a University of Florida graduate with a bachelor’s in psychology and a master’s in business, she said she applied for more than 20 jobs for less than $12 an hour. She recently landed a part-time job online so she could save money on daycare for her kids.

“I’m not even sure where we’re getting all the money to pay rent right now,” she said. “And, that’s a real struggle.”

About Christina Morales

Christina is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or

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