Glenda Thornton (Photo: Your Turn)
People in Tallahassee are talking, and rightfully so, about the 2019 County Health Rankings Key Findings Report, which shines a light on the problem of severe housing cost burdens. The study shows Leon County tied for No. 7 of Florida’s 67 counties for the percentage of households that spend 50 percent or more of their household income on housing, the measure of what is considered to be a severe housing cost burden.
This report provides community leaders of Tallahassee evidence of challenges in our community, which was further validated by the ALICE — Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed — study commissioned by the United Way of Florida in 2018.
The ALICE population is made up of employed people who live above the poverty line ($24,250 for a family of four), but whose salary does not cover the costs of living expenses such as childcare, food, transportation and health care. According to the 2018 Florida ALICE Report, 25 percent of households in our county fall into this category and 18 percent fall below the national poverty rate. That’s 43 percent of our neighbors!
Connecting Everyone to Second Chances, the parent organization of The Kearney Center, is looking to address barriers to affordable housing issues in our community through three programs:
First, The Kearney Center provides emergency housing to over 375 people a night, 600 meals a day and access to social services that help individuals find permanent housing.
Second, Westgate is another CESC supported transitional housing community for individuals in Tallahassee who have previously experienced or are on the verge of experiencing homelessness. Westgate offers a program focused on creating a space that residents can call home with stability, comfort and security.
Third, The Dwellings is a tiny house community for some individuals who are financially, socially or institutionally disadvantaged. Working with The Kearney Center and Westgate, The Dwellings assists those who don’t traditionally meet the requirements for most housing options in Tallahassee.
Using this three-tiered approach to providing free and reduced-cost housing, CESC provides a pathway to those who cannot afford to secure traditional housing in Leon County. According to the 2018 ALICE report, the average housing cost for a family in Leon County is $915, while a month’s stay at The Kearney Center is free and both Westgate and The Dwellings provide housing below the county average.
The Tallahassee City Commission recently denied using funds from the COT Affordable Housing Trust Fund to help pay down debt from the construction of The Kearney Center. In an upcoming City Commission meeting, commissioners will have the opportunity to look for alternative funding sources.
The board and the staff of CESC are extremely proud to help provide solutions for so many struggling residents of Tallahassee, but we need the continued support of our community leaders.
On behalf of the board and staff at the CESC, I strongly encourage the Commission to consider our request for future funding so we can continue the good work of providing critical housing solutions for our most vulnerable neighbors.
Glenda Thornton is board member at Connecting Everyone to Second Chances, Inc.