The county’s Platte problems

Hey, what does the Alachua County Commission have in common with the mouth of the Platte River?

Follow me on this one.

The city, county and UF are putting millions of dollars into the Eastside Health and Economic Initiative – to build a new clinic and transit center. If the initiative’s title is to be believed, the objective is to give East Gainesville both an economic and health care shot in the arm.

One might imagine that part of any economic development plan would be to provide for adequate workforce housing in the area so employees could have a decent place to live.

Enter Ability Housing, which has secured a $15 million grant from the Florida Housing Finance Corporation to help build a $25 million, 96-unit development at SE 8th Ave and SE 15th St. Ability Housing says the development is specifically intended to be affordable workforce housing. To get the grant, both the city and county committed up front to kick in the necessary local match.

But wait. At the eleventh hour, the county commission withdrew support from the Dogwood Village project. Why? Because neighbors complained that east Gainesville is always getting dumped on when it comes to having to accept those sort of projects.

Wait! What? We’re not talking about halfway houses or old-style “projects.” This is supposed to be workforce housing.

But never mind that. The county wants it built somewhere else. Somewhere west of Main Street.

Except that can’t happen. If Dogwood Village doesn’t go forward as promised the $15 million grant reverts back to the FHFC. And Ability Housing says if that happens, it will be forced to sue the county “for its decision to breach its commitment…”

Commissioners still have time to change their minds and approve the original project. But there is reason to doubt the county’s commitment to affordable housing in the first place.

This is the same commission, after all, that elbowed its way into a legal action contesting the City of Gainesville’s elimination of single family zoning. Over the decades exclusionary zoning has arguably done more than anything to discourage affordable housing construction throughout the city and to keep to Gainesville’s neighborhoods segregated by both race and economics.

The county commission’s message is a mixed one indeed: We will fight to preserve a segregation-era ordinance that discourages housing diversity throughout Gainesville. But we want to affordable housing to go somewhere else – maybe in Gainesville neighborhoods where exclusionary zoning prohibits it.

So why does Alachua County feel compelled to keep Gainesville from building affordable housing types – duplexes, triplexes and such – in neighborhoods that have long been off limits to them? I dunno. Maybe because making the Gainesville City Commission look bad has long been Job No. 1 on the county’s to-do list.

But why pull the plug on a $25 million workforce housing plan at the last minute on grounds that east Gainesville has already had too much of that sort of thing?

Perhaps the answer to both questions is because the county commission’s commitment to equity and social justice is – like the mouth of the Platte River – a mile wide and an inch deep.

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