The Orange County Board of Commissioners voted to offer eight county-owned properties for housing projects Tuesday and laid out the guidelines for handing out up to $2.5 million in affordable housing bond money.
The commissioners could negotiate a land donation, low-cost sale or lease agreement with an affordable housing provider, or sell the properties at market rates and use the profits to provide affordable housing, Deputy County Manager Travis Myren said.
The commissioners also approved a timeline that gives interested housing developers until March 31 to apply. The board could approve bond money projects by June 6. Projects would not have to include building or site plans at this point, but the developer’s stated goals would become part of the grant agreement.
Myren said the board could spend more money this year if there are more high-quality proposals, or leave the rest of a $5 million voter-approved bond for 2018. The county also has $1 million set aside to buy land for mobile homes, and another $1 million to meet any number of affordable housing needs, officials said.
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The resolutions approved Tuesday will let the county spend money from its budget and seek reimbursement later this year when the bonds are sold.
Several housing advocates and residents reminded the commissioners of the need and cheered their decisions.
The commissioners have the power to help many people, said Yvette Matthews, with the Community Empowerment Fund. About half of CEF’s members are homeless, including those who work minimum-wage jobs, she said.
“A lot of them are ... sleeping on the street, in tents, in parks and cars,” she said. “They have families, a lot of them are mothers, they’re children, and they’re sleeping in cars.”
Chinita Howard said she became one of the county’s homeless after suffering a seizure six years ago and then slowly being priced out of a market where fair rent for decent housing is over $1,000, leaving no money for her medication.
“So where did I go? I lived in the woods,” she said. “I lived in the woods from Sept. 25 until November. In Hurricane Matthew, I was sitting there with trees 25 feet tall. The Meals on Wheels people, wonderful. They brought my food, because I could not afford to live,” she said.
It’s a little exasperating to hear those stories and not be able help, CEF community advocate Brittany Bullock said.
“These are hardworking people who contribute to the county. They have one, two, some even three jobs, but yet they still live in the woods or they still live on the streets,” she said. “We tell them they’re good enough to work in the county, contribute to the county, pay taxes, but they’re not good enough to pay for an apartment, to have a roof over their head.”
The board briefly discussed Commissioner Mia Burroughs’ suggestion that bond projects be evaluated both for how they help county residents and how they help people who work in the county but live elsewhere. Commissioners Penny Rich and Barry Jacobs advocated for focusing first on local residents.
“As the state legislature and U.S. Congress are controlled more and more by people who don’t care about the people who came and spoke to us, or the people who are being served by the entities here, there’s going to be higher and higher demand,” Jacobs said, “and that’s going to make it more and more difficult to provide these services, even within our borders, with the resources we have.”
The commissioners will continue discussing affordable housing plans at their Feb. 16 work session.