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State Housing Initiatives Partnership receives more than $1.6 million to assist with housing upkeep and repairs

Citizens volunteered to become board members to help oversee the implementation of the SHIP program. From left to right, Jamie Bell, Charmaine Henry, Reina Saco and Aymee Cepeda. (Francis Kapper/WUFT News)
Citizens volunteered to become board members to help oversee the implementation of the SHIP program. From left to right, Jamie Bell, Charmaine Henry, Reina Saco and Aymee Cepeda. (Francis Kapper/WUFT News)

Florida Housing is injecting $1.6 million into Gainesville's State Housing Initiatives Partnership for the 2022-2023 fiscal year.

The State Housing Initiatives Partnership, also known as SHIP, is a program administered by Florida Housing that is intended to help homeowners struggling with housing expenses. The program has several ways for the citizens of Gainesville to receive funding.

Gainesville City Commissioner Reina Saco said a lack of affordable housing has been an issue for Gainesville residents.

“Man, is it rough out there,” Saco said regarding the housing crisis. “Shelter is the one thing you need to survive.”

The 1992 William E. Sadowski Affordable Housing Act established the funding for this program. The program is crucial to supporting Floridians who are struggling to pay off or repair their homes.

City Commissioner Saco was a housing attorney before sitting as commissioner. She said the state could do more to financially assist residents seeking affordable housing.

“Much more should be dedicated to housing,” Saco said. “It is the number one issue for folks in Florida right now.” She said mortgage interest rates are rising and homeowners insurance providers are dropping people.

Charmaine Henry, 71, is a former teacher and principal in Alachua County. She retired in 2020. She said she supports affordable housing because she has lived in a house for 50 years thanks to a Gainesville affordable housing initiative.

The city served her, and she wants to ensure the city continues to serve others.

“The city had a program that allowed people living in the housing development to get a home,” Henry said. “The city gave us $1,500 to make a down payment. At that time, $1,500 was a lot of money because all we had to do was come up with $900.”

SHIP has a similar assistance program. The Downpayment Assistance Program can help first-time homebuyers “assist with down payment and closing costs for the purchase of a new or existing home.”

This program is available for anyone making less than 120% of Gainesville’s median family income; $49,124 is the median income for single-income households.

To be eligible for the SHIP program, applicants must meet several financial requirements. Specifically, the city is using median family income to divide the population into different income brackets that are eligible for different programs.

Median family income allows legislators to determine which families are making proportionately more or less money than others in their community. By measuring income, they can find out who needs the most financial assistance.

Priority is given to households that have occupants with special needs.

SHIP also has a Major Rehabilitation Program to help homeowners whose homes have “serious health and safety violations on a home such as electrical, plumbing and heating.”

This program is only available to residents who earn below 80% of Gainesville’s median family income. Median family income is based on the combined income of all working family members in a household. The United States Census Bureau’s current data says Gainesville's median household income for single-income households from 2017-2021 is $40,937.

Residents making below 80% of Gainesville’s median family income who are eligible to apply for the Major Rehabilitation Program are also eligible to apply for the Roof Replacement Program. This program is meant to repair or replace damaged, leaky roofs that have deteriorated over time.

Residents who apply to the two programs above and qualify for assistance may be entitled to a brand-new home. They may qualify for the House Replacement Program if “more than 50% of the structure is deemed unlivable and estimated rehab exceeds the maximum award for the owner-occupied rehabilitation program.”

Through this program, applicants can have their home demolished and a brand new one built. The maximum price of the replacement home “must not exceed 90% of the Average Area Purchase Price established by the U.S. Department of Treasury.” This clause could prove to be quite the windfall for Gainesville residents who meet the criteria.

Jamie Bell is the chairwoman of the committee that oversees how the SHIP program is implemented in Gainesville. She said she too fights for affordable housing programs because she was able to purchase her first Gainesville home through an affordable housing initiative. She said that fighting for affordable housing makes her very emotional.

“I just want to grow the community I’m in,” Bell said. “And affordable housing is what we need to do.”

Bell said the issues surrounding affordable housing are complicated because it is not a very lucrative business venture.

“It's not necessarily profitable for developers to create affordable housing,” Bell said.

When financial aid of such a large denomination is being distributed, there are always exceptions. The criteria to be considered for such aid and assistance are numerous. One of the most common reasons to deny a request is if an applicant is behind on their taxes or other financial obligations to the city.

Residents must not have received previous financial assistance for their homes. The property must be their principal residence with homestead exemption and up-to-date paid property taxes and other assessments.

The applicant must be the name on the property deed complete with “homeowners and/or fire insurance.” Also, the home must be within the “corporate city limits of the City of Gainesville.”

One very large exception that excludes a significant portion of the population is the fact that no mobile homes are considered for assistance through these programs.

Charles Jackson, 31, is an employee at Chick-fil-A on campus at the University of Florida. He has been living in his mobile home for six years now. He said that he was upset when he learned that the funding for this program excluded mobile home residents.

“We put our life savings into that home,” Jackson said. “A homeowner is a homeowner. It doesn’t matter if it’s a cardboard box or a trailer or an apartment. A home is a home. We own it.”

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