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Affordable housing the next action of JUST Pensacola

Updated: Aug 2

WUWF | By Jennie McKeon

Published May 4, 2022 at 10:41 AM CDT

Jennie McKeon/WUWF Public Media

Hundreds gathered at the Blue Wahoos stadium for the JUST Pensacola Nehemiah Action meeting.

Affordable housing is the latest issue to be tackled by JUST Pensacola with the organization calling on local leaders to help address the need for rental housing.

According to the University of Florida Shimberg Center for Housing Studies, 62 out of every 100 families and individuals earning $73,900 or less in Escambia County are paying more than 30% of their income on rent.

The lack of affordable housing not only affects the service workers and those living on fixed incomes but educated professionals.

Rev. Ansley Walker of St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church said she looked for months to find a place to rent in Pensacola after ruling out purchasing a house.

“I couldn’t find anything under $1,200,” she said at Monday night’s Nehemiah Assembly.

When she finally found a place, she had to prove she earned twice the monthly rent. She was able to make it work, but now she says she’s “terrified” to renew her lease as the rent has increased by $500.

Justice United Seeking Transformation (JUST) Pensacola is an organization made up of 18 congregations throughout Pensacola. It was established in 2019 with the mission to solve community problems on a yearly process.

Last year, the organization addressed juvenile citations to reduce the number of minors with criminal records. The goal was to get civil citations up to 80%. While the goal was not met, civil citations usage did go from 17% in December 2020 to 58% in December. The organization is expanding this mission to include civil citations for adults charged with nonviolent misdemeanors.

Seeking more affordable housing is this year's goal for the group.

Jennie McKeon/WUWF Public Media Members demonstrate how only one of the top common jobs in Pensacola can afford fair market rent.

The average rent in the Pensacola area is $1,338 for a one-bedroom apartment, according to JUST Pensacola. In Escambia County, only one of the 10 most common jobs earns enough to afford that: registered nurses. Members demonstrated this on the ballfield holding signs that represented different jobs from servers to secretaries.

JUST Pensacola is asking Pensacola City Council members and Escambia County commissioners to explore the feasibility of a joint trust fund to support the production of affordable housing and help those who earn 30% to 80% of the Area Median Income (which is $73,900 in Escambia County).

Councilmembers Ann Hill and Casey Jones addressed the meeting Monday, saying they would work with the organization to explore the joint trust fund. Commissioner Lumon May and Councilmember Teniade Broughton attended the meeting and sent statements of support.

“It’s such an inspiration to see you all here,” Hill said, addressing the crowd of several

hundred at the Community Maritime Park in downtown Pensacola. “It’s an amazing thing to take care of your neighbors and I hope I can stand up to the task you’ve given me here.”

Jennie McKeon/WUWF Public Media

Attendees at the JUST Pensacola event who have their own housing issues. From top left: Mary Stanfield, CeCe Epps and Ericka and Jonathan Maldin.

Even people who receive assistance have barriers to housing. Mary Stanfield is a single mother who works in childcare. She receives a HUD voucher to help pay for her two-bedroom apartment. Finding rentals in the accepted price range is a struggle.

“I had to find something under $800, but the place I found (that accepted HUD) was $810,” she said. “Luckily, they accepted it, but then the rent went up to $962.”

Stanfield said she was encouraged to see a diverse group talking about the problem, whether it be ethnicity, faith, or social class.

“It’s everyone’s struggle,” she said. “Not just the minorities.”

Ericka and Jonathan Maldin said meeting the income threshold is a challenge. Ericka works in retail and Jonathan is in administration.

“You have to make three times the amount (of rent) and there’s almost no way,” he said. “Even with a good job.”

Ericka said she was encouraged by her dad to attend Monday’s meeting. It was encouraging to see the issue being addressed, she said.

“I didn’t think anyone in the community really cared,” she said.

JUST Pensacola’s next steps is a stakeholders meeting July 7.

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