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Treasure Coast counties work to combat affordable housing crisis with formation of new task force

Commissioner Susan Adams says 4-county 'task team' has been formed to help solve issue
Posted at 6:20 PM, Jul 24, 2023

ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. — Commissioners along the Treasure Coast have now formed a task team dedicated to improving affordable housing opportunities.

Susan Adams, Indian River County Commissioner for District 1, said the task team is made up of commissioners from Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee counties.

The new information comes after WPTV reported how nonprofits across Indian River County are overwhelmed by an increase in need and are unable to help due to funding cuts.

Mustard Seed Ministries in Fort Pierce is one of those.

The nonprofit's executive director, Greg Smith, said it is now receiving five to six calls per day specifically for help with housing.

Greg Smith explains how there has been a surge in residents needing help in St. Lucie County since the pandemic.
Greg Smith explains how there has been a surge in residents needing help in St. Lucie County since the pandemic.

"In 2022, we had about a little over 2,000 families evicted or foreclosed on," Smith said, "and this year, if the trend continues, it's going to be more like 2,300 - 2,500."

As the need stacks higher, the nonprofit's funding was pulled out from under them. Smith said during the pandemic, the nonprofit received more than $250,000 in FEMA funds to help the community.

With the pandemic now over, Smith said as of January, the nonprofit received only $40,000.

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"And unfortunately other social service agencies in the area have experienced the same thing," Smith said.

WPTV heard the same thing from nonprofits up in Indian River County, from Habitat for Humanity, to Hope for Families, to the Salvation Army, where Capt. Kelvin Garcia said they've seen the number of families in need of help per month increase from 15 to 40-50. At the same time, Garcia said their budget was cut by $1 million.

"It seems like everyone is out of funding," Smith said.

Indian River County Commissioner Susan Adams explains how she hopes the task force will create more affordable housing for Treasure Coast residents.

WPTV contacted commissioners in both St. Lucie and Indian River counties.

Adams said the first step in solving the problem is the housing task team, which will take a look at how the Live Local Act, which took effect July 1, may be able to create more affordable housing and help the issue.

"We recognize that families and workers move back and forth within our region, so we want to make sure we’re attracting as many affordable housing developers as we can," Adams said.

In addition, she said other initiatives the county is working on include:

  • Working with Habitat for Humanity to put in 14 single-family homes for low-income home buyers
  • Looking at incentives to attract more affordable housing developers
  • Looking to potentially increase budgets for nonprofits and  assistance programs 
  • Incentivizing developers to create a portion of their newly built homes as affordable and/or workforce housing 

St. Lucie County commissioners also said they are looking to potentially increase budgets for nonprofits and incentivizing developers to create a portion of their newly built homes as affordable and/or workforce housing as well.
"Our affordable housing recipients are you and me to be quite honest with you," Adams said. "We have some developers that are looking at this right now."

It's encouraging for Smith, who knows the time for many families is running out.

"It's just essential that we receive money," Smith said. "We could really keep a lot of people in their homes."

WPTV also contacted federal congressmen about the FEMA funding issue, one of whom said they are looking into it.

In the meantime, Adams said more State Housing Initiative Program (SHIP) funding provided through the Live Local Act to increase help for housing and utilities should come down from the state soon.

If you need immediate assistance, residents can contact the Indian River County Housing Authority at 3980 King Place in Vero Beach by calling (772) 567-6182 or emailing admin@indianrivercountyha.com.