A minor victory came this week in the Town Center saga as Jacksonville City Council approved an extension of time for occupants of 67 units to vacate their boarded up homes. The unfolding story illustrated a housing crisis that did not happen overnight.

The spotlight was on New River’s apartment community as the city responded to massive complaints from residents about unsafe conditions such as faulty plumbing, toxic mold and pest control issues in most units. The city’s findings were validated by emotional testimonies citing these conditions and the resulting health issues at recent city council meetings. This is what ultimately led to these properties being condemned as much of the country is in a pandemic-induced housing crisis.

“We need over 1,400 affordable housing units,” said City Manager Richard Woodruff.

Following:“This is our house”: the city again extends the deadline for downtown residents to evacuate condemned houses

That number is derived from a housing study completed last year and confirmed by 2020 census figures that the County and City of Jacksonville need more housing for families of all income brackets.

Onslow’s population has grown 15.1 percent since 2010 with an addition of 26,783. Jacksonville grew 3.7%, or 2,578 people, for a total population of 72,723 in a city with high turnover due to the military population.

The military’s most popular season, when families move to new duty stations, has made it even more difficult for anyone to find rental accommodation over the summer, but the market has calmed down since resuming school. The city does not have enough housing to meet aggregate demand, let alone for low-income tenants.

“The affordable housing problem will only be resolved over a period of several years,” said Woodruff.

Town Center Apartments has become a major component of the Jacksonville housing market for low income families, seniors, and others on fixed incomes. The 694-unit apartment complex in New River was originally built in the 1950s as basic accommodation and has fallen into disrepair over the decades as a series of owners have failed to maintain them. Over 430 of the units are now vacant due to city orders.

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Some of the Town Center Apartments units can still be occupied at this time with less housing code issues.

Onslow hasn’t seen any new single-family home subdivisions built in eight years. There are currently four subdivisions in the planning phase which should be developed over the next two years and would provide approximately 500 single-family lots. It usually takes around 18 months to build a new apartment complex as long as there are no funding issues or a shortage of building materials.

Woodruff said the owners were trying to sell the entire complex as is. So far, three developers have contacted owners willing to purchase a 10-15 acre track to build 100-200 housing units.

The city hopes to see a comprehensive approach to redeveloping the 90-acre neighborhood over five to 10 years. Woodruff said it would likely take at least $ 16 million to buy the entire downtown complex as is, because that’s what the current owners paid for it.

It would take at least $ 20 million to build a new apartment complex of 100 to 200 units. Simply replacing 700 units downtown would cost at least $ 50 million, which Woodruff says will more likely come from a combination of federal and state housing programs.

From 2010 to 2015, Onslow experienced a boom in apartment complexes. The city issued permits for around 3,000 apartments, but only 2,600 eventually dotted Western Boulevard, Carolina Forest, and Williamsburg, as areas quickly oversized. Only about 300 of these units are affordable, according to federal guidelines. The rest is rented at the market rate which is strongly fixed by the military base housing allowance.

Woodruff said the city has only issued two permits for new apartment complexes since 2015. A complex near US Highway 17 behind Moore Buick GMC will have 100 units. Another affordable housing complex near Blue Creek School Road is currently in development and the first 70 units are expected to be available in June. 70 other units will open a year later.

The latest deadline set by the city for downtown residents to evacuate the 67 most dilapidated units coincides with the arrival of so many new units on the market. Woodruff said the city will help affected residents stay informed when new complexes begin to receive requests, typically 90 days before they are ready to be occupied.

“We have a short-term crisis that the board has extended until June 30,” said Woodruff. “The long term solution is going to take a decade.”

While the city has postponed any further action to evacuate these 67 units, the new deadline does not apply to the additional 100 units that could be occupied beyond expansion as they have the fewest code issues. This action does not commit the owners of the city center who have the final say on the eviction schedule.

The city has allocated $ 20,000 to Onslow Community Outreach for downtown residents to apply for assistance with moving expenses, down payments and utility deposits for those moving within city limits.

“When that $ 20,000 is spent, we will be asking City Council again for additional funds,” said Woodruff. “I am very confident that the mayor and council will continue to replenish this housing assistance fund.”

Onslow Strong Disaster Recovery Alliance funding is also available for those moving outside of city limits. Onslow Community Outreach coordinates assistance for all affected downtown residents. They can contact the Outreach Department at 910-455-5733 or visit OnslowCo.org.

The Outreach maintains an up-to-date list of rental accommodation available to downtown residents in transition. There are not enough houses for everyone.

“There’s always a need,” said Tracy Jackson, director of neighborhood improvement services for the city. “We would like people with private rental housing to contact us to help these people. “

Due to COVID-19, downtown residents and homeowners who can help are urged to call the nearby service to schedule a screening appointment or it can be completed over the phone.

“They have to act today because it’s on a first come, first served basis,” Jackson said.

Journalist Jennifer Rich can be reached at [email protected]

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