Jacksonville has long struggled with providing quality affordable housing options for families with below-average incomes.
This problem had been particularly evident in downtown Jax, where for decades it was difficult to find any available form of housing, let alone an option that was both affordable and suitable for living.
In the past few years, however, affordable housing has become a new trend in the downtown area, thanks largely to the efforts of one development company.
Vestcor, a locally-based multifamily community development group with a history of building affordable housing developments, had previously worked with the city to purchase and rehabilitate the historic Carling and 11 East Forsyth buildings in the mid-2000s. In 2016, they again worked with the city’s Downtown Investment Authority, this time to fund a brand-new multifamily development in LaVilla – one that would set aside the majority of its units for those making less than 60% of the area’s median income.
In addition to the DIA, Vestcor secured funding from the Jacksonville Housing Finance Authority as well as low-income housing tax credits from Florida Housing Finance Corporation.
Dubbed Lofts at LaVilla, Vestcor’s five-story, 130-unit complex brought new life to an empty lot across the street from the Prime Osborn Center. It opened in late 2017 and quickly shot to 100% occupancy.
Vestcor wasted no time in expanding on the successful concept. They secured property just a few blocks to the north and began construction on Lofts at Monroe, a 108-unit complex at Davis and Monroe that opened late last year. Construction on the 133-unit Lofts at Jefferson Station next door to Lofts at LaVilla also began last year, with completion expected by the end of the year.
And earlier this year, work commenced on the project to redevelop the historic Ambassador Hotel building. As part of that project, Vestcor will build a 200-unit apartment complex next door to the hotel; 25% of those units will be designated for lower-income families and individuals.
Later this year, the company will expand into Brooklyn as they break ground on Lofts at Brooklyn, a 133-unit development across the street from Brooklyn Park.
Once these projects are completed, Vestcor will have added well over 500 units of affordable housing within downtown Jax.
And it looks like the trend is starting to spread beyond Vestcor. Late last year, Clara White Mission indicated that they’re seeking funding to build tiny houses for homeless veterans in partnership with Eco Relics. The nonprofit organization would build the houses on land near their building that’s currently owned by the city.
The city’s lack of quality affordable housing options remains a large concern, both inside and outside of the urban core. But at the very least, things are finally moving in the right direction.