Fort Pierce gets ball rolling on workforce housing with approval of ordinance to interface with future land trust

FORT PIERCE – The City Commission approved the initial ordinance March 4 that will pave the way for workforce housing through the future establishment of a nonprofit community land trust to coordinate funding for infill development.

City Building Official Paul Thomas said in the summary describing the proposed ordinance that it would “regulate the infill of affordable residential housing” and recommended approval.

“The ordinance also allows for the city to enter into an agreement with a community land trust, which would oversee the establishment of affordable workforce housing that would remain affordable into perpetuity,” he said. “In addition, the community land trust would revitalize lower income neighborhoods by introducing new construction, enabling pride of home-ownership and increasing the affordable housing options for the citizens of Fort Pierce. We should be all be very happy: We’re quickly moving towards actually achieving the goal of having workforce housing and affordable housing here in the city.”

Building Dept. Coordinator Shaun Coss then provided commissioners a brief overview of the proposed ordinance, emphasizing that it was an initial ordinance applying strictly to housing constructed in conjunction with a community land trust to be founded in the near future.

“This one issue should be looked at as the foundation block for future upcoming ordinance amendments to this ordinance,” he said. “This ordinance is going to set the basis that allows the city to enter into an agreement with a not-for-profit organization to act as the community land trust for the City of Fort Pierce. It establishes the Workforce Housing Trust Fund, providing for what funds can be used for, and how the money, land and other gifts can be donated, accepted or spent. This ordinance establishes the guidelines and requires covenants to be recorded to ensure the perpetuity of affordable housing.”

Commissioner Rufus Alexander then asked Mr. Coss if the proposed land trust funds would apply only towards new construction projects or whether they would also cover rehabilitation projects. During an earlier discussion that evening on the proposed demolition of a condemned concrete block home on North 27th Street, the former expressed frustration with the city’s inability to salvage such homes.

“You should be working closely with Code Enforcement, so they stop tearing down these CBS houses,” Commissioner exclaimed.

“Rehabilitation is certainly an option that we are looking into,” Mr. Coss responded. “One of our goals is to work with Code Enforcement.”

Mayor Linda Hudson then asked if the Building Department had responded to a list of email questions received earlier that day sent both to Mr. Coss and Mr. Thomas from the Realtors® of the Greater Palm Beaches and Fort Lauderdale about the proposed ordinance and the formation of the community land trust. In the email, the group’s government affairs director, Bryce Sartory, asked several questions about how Fort Pierce planned to form the land trust and expressed opposition to any new fees or taxes tied to the formation or the funding of the entity.

Mr. Coss admitted he’d received the same list of questions prior to the meeting but had not responded to them.

“That is something that is going to be in our next stage as we all work together with Lincoln Park Revitalization Coordinator Caleta Scott in establishing the board for the community land trust,” he answered. “We’ll be reaching out to make partners with financial institutions, realtors, property owners, people involved in the community, the Lincoln Park District, -- anybody that we can get involved and invested in this program.”

Mr. Thomas then made a clarification about the ordinance, which he insisted was unrelated to the actual formation of the land trust.

“If I may add, this ordinance isn’t for the establishment of the community land trust,” he explained. “The community land trust is going to be a 501C3 independent entity, so this is just an interface ordinance that in essence allows the City of Fort Pierce to interface.”

“And there’s no funding involved?” the mayor subsequently asked.

“No, not right now,” Mr. Thomas responded.

Commissioner Reginald Sessions then chimed in, reiterating some of Commissioner Alexander’s concerns.

“I know this was a part of the program you all were working on so that we could rehabilitate a lot of these dilapidated homes, which has been a concern of ours considering the housing stock in Fort Pierce,” he said. “Ultimately, we would be able to address what’s been happening here, and that is these houses that are solid in terms of a sound structure, but yet we’re tearing a lot of them down. And now we’ll have the ability to go in and rehab these buildings when you interchange your efforts with a non-profit. So, we will incur some costs, am I correct?”

Mr. Thomas affirmed that Fort Pierce would eventually have some financial responsibility for the acquisition of such properties through the foreclosure process.

“If a property was distressed and had fines run against it greater than the value of the property, then the city has the option to foreclose,” he emphasized. “At that point, they would transfer to the land trust, and the land trust would either rehab or build new homes. So, the cost incurred with the city would just be on the acquisition of the property – whatever costs would be incurred by a foreclosure, which is a nominal cost.”

Commissioner Sessions then made the motion for approval of the ordinance, which was seconded by Commissioner Jeremiah Johnson and passed unanimously.

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