St. Johns County holds ribbon-cutting for affordable housing complex

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – St. Johns County on Wednesday held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a newly completed affordable housing complex.

The San Marcos Heights housing complex is designed to help people with lower household incomes. The complex has 132 units with one to three bedrooms, and the average rent is between $800 and $1,200.

The county and developers are working to make the county more accessible for people to live in.

Tenants who News4JAX spoke with said they’re just grateful to have somewhere to live — a place they can actually afford and lay their heads at night without worrying about how to make ends meet. The complex is already home to 30 families, including Lisa Cortes’ family.

“I moved in my van with my son and my dog until we found this,” the tenant said. “I filled out so many applications through Section 8, and it was like 23, and I got rejected, rejected and rejected, and I was like ‘why?’ — until I finally I found this place.”

Cortes describes her new place as “amazing.”

“I can do doughnuts in my chair in my closet. It’s so big. It’s spacious. I can reach everything on my counters are leveled,” Cortes said. “I can cook every day. I’ve got a kitchen.”

Features for the new community on Hometown Lane off of State Road 207, east of Interstate 95, include:

  • 5,000-square-foot clubhouse

  • 24-hour state-of-the-art fitness center

  • Children’s play station

  • Green space

  • Security system

  • Outdoor playground

  • On-site parking

  • On-site management

In addition, the complex is located about a half-mile from the Leo C. Chase Jr. VA Clinic and around 15 minutes from downtown St. Augustine.

The architect also said the complex was built to American Red Cross standards for a storm shelter, and it can withstand about 150 miles per hour winds.

St. Johns County secured funding for this project through an application to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity for Department of Housing and Urban Development disaster relief funds after Hurricane Matthew.

The county was awarded grant funding, of which $30 million was allocated to affordable housing.

San Marcos Heights was partially funded directly from that grant. The developer, Smith & Henzy Affordable Group, also utilized $15 million in tax-exempt bonds from the Florida Housing Finance Authority and private equity funds to complete the project. In addition, the St. Johns Housing Finance Authority had a substantial role in securing tax-exempt bonds for the project.

According to county leaders, rent and home prices have increased tremendously over the past year and have continued to outprice individuals and families out of the homebuying market, especially those who have public service jobs like teachers and firefighters.

“Probably the average salary is more like $35-40K, and no one in that category list are independently wealthy and could obviously afford to live in a half-million-dollar home,” said St. Johns County Commissioner Henry Dean.

Just two months in, tenants at San Marcos Heights could not more grateful for access to living in St. Johns County.

“I was seeing two-bedroom houses for $1,700, and now I have a two-bedroom for way less than that,” said tenant Sara Ramos. “It’s an expensive county, but I think that as expensive as it is, it’s also a beautiful county, and people should be able to have access to it.”

To qualify for San Marcos Heights, the maximum income ranges from $35,000 to $66,000 depending on the members of your household — that’s from one to eight people in your household.

And there are more affordable housing projects underway in the county. Dean told News4JAX that there are two more projects already in the works or under construction, and when those come online, they’ll provide another 400 to 500 units of affordable housing.

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