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The Villages
Friday, July 12, 2024

Villages Developer should take interest in need for affordable housing

There’s a massive shortage of affordable housing in the tri-county area surrounding The Villages and it’s time for government leaders – along with the Developer of the mega-retirement community – to step up to the plate and fix the problem.

Just to be clear, we’re not talking about affordable housing for doctors, nurses, schoolteachers and company executives. Those homes exist in various neighborhoods surrounding and in close proximity to Florida’s Friendliest Hometown. Clearly, professionals making hefty salaries in the local area haven’t had problems finding places to live in the past few years.

What we’re talking about is nice, affordable housing for workers in lower-income brackets in the local area. The waitresses, cooks, maintenance workers, retail employees and a host of others are essential to keeping The Villages up and running. Without them, the 157,000-plus residents who call the community home wouldn’t be able to enjoy many of the things they’ve come to expect, such as dining out and shopping at a plethora of retail stores, to name just a few.

Traffic was backed up on U.S. 301 after a recent crash on the busy roadway.

In case you aren’t aware of it, a whopping 72 percent of people who work in Sumter County – where the vast majority of the new growth in the sprawling retirement community is taking place – live outside the county, which causes a whole bunch of issues, such as clogging up U.S. 301 and other roadways with traffic at quitting time and crashes like the one that recently left a Wildwood woman dead. Those statistics were among those presented last week to Wildwood commissioners by Melanie Peavy, who serves as development services director for the fast-growing city.

Wildwood is expanding at a rate of several hundred homes a month, but nearly all of those dwellings – like those in the Villages of Southern Oaks – are out of reach financially for the average working person in Sumter County. That’s because “affordable housing” is defined as costing no more than 30 percent of a worker’s salary.

For Wildwood city employees, for instance, the average salary is $44,000 a year, with 64 percent earning less than that. So that means the maximum housing payment those employees can afford at the 30 percent level is about $1,100 a month – roughly the cost of a one-bedroom apartment. The city’s annual median income for everyone is $38,945, so that paints an even bleaker picture with a maximum affordable housing cost of just $973 a month.

“You can’t at that rate basically afford a one-bedroom apartment in Wildwood,” Peavy said, adding that increasing the supply of affordable housing has benefits beyond providing places for workers to live.

For instance, it reduces taxpayer expenses and homelessness, decreases traffic, is less expensive than institutional care and improves the health and education of lower-income families. It also boosts the economy because workers spend money locally – something we all can agree is a wonderful thing.

The PepperTree Apartments in Wildwood

As it stands right now, Peppertree Apartments along US. 301 is the only market-rate apartment complex in Wildwood. Subsidized apartments, where government grants lower the cost, are available at Wildwood Commons – which has a waiting list – and Club Wildwood. Lakeside Landings has reasonably priced townhomes.

Club Wildwood

Simple Life – a community of tiny homes priced at about $100,000 – is developing north of County Road 466 in Oxford. Pepper Tree Village and Woodland Meadows offer single-family homes starting at $200,000.

To begin to rectify the problem, Peavy suggested a partnership with Sumter County Housing, a proposed ordinance to increase the maximum density to 24 units per acre and modified standards for density bonuses that remove a requirement that projects be located along a rapid transit line – something Wildwood doesn’t have.

Currently, Sumter County provides a $10,000 match for apartment developers who receive assistance from the Florida Housing Finance Corp. through a very competitive grant program. Habitat for Humanity also helps to make affordable homes available through its home ownership and repair programs. And the State Housing Initiative Partnership offers down payment and emergency repair assistance for homebuyers and owners.

We’d also suggest that The Villages Developer – the Morse family definitely needs these lower-income workers for the big-bucks retirement mecca to keep padding their wallets – step up and fill the need with some of these much-needed housing areas. The Developer already has shown that he can build apartments with the high-dollar Lofts at Brownwood, so there’s no question the Morse family could use some of their massive plots of land to build apartments or affordable homes that could be rented or purchased by the workers they so desperately need.

We also sincerely hope that government leaders throughout the tri-county area will take a hard look at this issue and work together to take the appropriate actions. Lower-income workers are one of the many reasons The Villages and its surrounding areas are booming and continuing to be successful. But it’s simply ridiculous that 72 percent of those workers are forced to commute into the area because they can’t afford to live here.

Frankly, this is a no-brainer and a problem that should be easy to fix. If government leaders offer the right incentives and work with area builders, we have no doubt that nice apartment complexes and smaller, affordable neighborhoods could built throughout the tri-county area.

Many of us started out in lower-income jobs and have gone on to make good salaries and live comfortable lives. Wouldn’t it be nice if those people who work so hard to make our lives so much better were afforded the same opportunity and had the chance to actually live and work in the same community? We think so and we’re guessing you probably feel the same way.

The bottom line is the Developer needs this workforce for the future growth of The Villages. And there are few in the nation who have shown the ingenuity in developing housing solutions as has been demonstrated here in The Villages.

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