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Churches asked Pensacola to create a housing trust fund. Why the city gave a 'hard no.'

Pensacola News Journal | by Benjamin Johnson

Published 4:12 am April 26, 2023

Gregg Pachkowski /

Both a coalition of Pensacola area churches and the city's administration say they are committed to creating affordable housing in Pensacola, though they are of different minds on how that goal can be accomplished.

Justice United Seeking Transformation (JUST) Pensacola has called on Mayor D.C. Reeves and the Pensacola City Council to allocate $43 million of the city's money over 10 years to go into an affordable housing trust fund.

Monday night, hundreds of people gathered at First Baptist Church of Warrington with hopes Reeves and council members would discuss the trust fund proposal during JUST Pensacola's annual Nehemiah Action event, however city officials did not attend.

"We met with the mayor a week ago, April 17, to discuss our proposal and this upcoming Nehemiah assembly," said Marian Bennett, co-chair of JUST Pensacola. "The mayor refused to attend this evening. He was a hard no on budgeting the $4 million a year to the trust fund, and the conversation did not produce an alternative."

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Reeves told the News Journal that his decision not to attend the meeting doesn't come from a place of uncaring about Pensacola's affordable housing situation, but rather from an intent to find a more pragmatic solution.

"Our issue is a problem of function, not an issue of philosophy or urgency, and they are well aware of that," Reeves said. "If it's being represented that I've refused to support (affordable housing), the leadership of JUST Pensacola knows that isn't true."

Reeves expounded on the issue at a regular press conference Tuesday morning, saying that he personally had met with JUST Pensacola four times, and that he, city staff and council members had collectively spent "quite a large amount" of time discussing the proposal over multiple years.

He said while they all agree philosophically something must be done to create affordable housing, they disagree on the tactics to make it happen.

JUST Pensacola is a coalition of 17 congregations from 12 different faith traditions in Pensacola and the surrounding areas of Escambia County. According to the organization, "JUST Pensacola actively uncovers injustice and mobilizes the community through the power of organized people to create and win just, fair and effective solutions. Our member congregations research and conduct public education to address the root causes of poverty and injustice, through the empowerment of marginalized people."

The Nehemiah Action meeting Monday focused on two primary issues, affordable rental housing and adult civil citations. Adult civil citation programs allow law enforcement officials to divert non-violent, first-time offenders out of the traditional criminal justice pipeline. During the JUST Pensacola event, State Attorney Ginger Bowden Madden announced plans to launch an adult civil citation program in Escambia County in the September timeframe. Civil citations for Escambia adults:How and why they keep people out of jail.

JUST Pensacola members had seemingly hoped to get a commitment from the city to create an affordable housing trust fund, citing its purpose as "the production and preservation of safe, decent and affordable rental housing for households with incomes at or below 80% of the Area Median Income."

Reeves told the News Journal that JUST Pensacola's vision for the trust fund had very specific parameters that don't match the city's strategy.

"The conversation I've had with them consistently is that it's too rigid to take $4.3 million annually of general fund revenue and set it aside, given the fact that how we attack this affordable housing crisis has to be much more nimble than that," Reeves said. "What I mean is that could be through grant funding, that could be through (Community Redevelopment Agency) funding, that could be through (American Rescue Plan Act) dollars that remain or it could be from tax abatements."

The mayor specifically referenced Senate Bill 102, recent legislation that provides tax abatements to developers of affordable housing projects, among other incentives for housing creation.

Reeves also said JUST Pensacola "would not count" money used through tax abatements or other sources as part of the $4.3 million and required all the funding come from the city's general fund.

"This proposal has been talked about now for multiple years," Reeves said. "Even with the passing of Senate Bill 102, the proposal hasn't changed, not by a dollar."

The general fund covers municipal functions such as police and fire services, maintaining parks and rights of way, stormwater management, street lights and more, and Reeves said his administration did not want to hamper its ability to operate the city by setting aside a large portion of the general fund.

"How responsible is it for me, representing the taxpayer or my employees, to set aside this amount of general fund dollars on an initiative that refuses to adapt to our economics and our changing state laws," Reeves said. "This is not a disagreement about the crisis that we all see, it's just we have to be more pragmatic and logical about how we all join hands and take this crisis on."

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