Wanda Barnett has experienced the same struggle as too many Gainesville residents: a futile search to find an affordable place to live.
Barnett, 68, told The Sun for a recent story that the owner of a home she rented for the past nine years was kicking her out to put the place on the market. She had been unable to find new accommodations she could afford other than a friend's back porch.
Thankfully Gainesville is home to more than a dozen organizations helping people avoid homelessness, some of which contacted The Sun after the story ran to offer assistance. With the local housing market heating up and large numbers of local residents in poverty, a need for affordable housing here is only going to increase.
These problems aren’t unique to Gainesville. About 900,000 eviction judgments were issued across the country in 2016, representing one in five renter households in the communities studied by Princeton University sociologist Matthew Desmond.
Desmond wrote the book “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” which won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction. The New York Times recently wrote about evictions in a story that focused on Richmond, Virginia.
The story explained that “many poor African-Americans live in low-quality housing with limited means of escaping it” in Richmond, a problem compounded by the city’s location “in the Southeast, where the poverty rates are high and the minimum wage is low.” The description could have just as easily been made of Gainesville.
More than 40 percent of Gainesville-area households have at least one problem with the quality or condition of their housing, according to the racial inequity report released by University of Florida researchers in January. These problems, including a high cost burden and overcrowding, were found to disproportionately affect black and Hispanic households.
Gainesville was found to have one of the highest rates of black applicants being denied for home loans in a report from the Center for Investigative Reporting in February. One Realtor cited a jump in housing costs that has significantly outpaced increases in local incomes as a possible explanation.
The Sun-sponsored Gainesville For All initiative considered these problems in developing proposals to address local racial and socioeconomic disparities. Its recommendations include a community land trust to expand affordable home ownership opportunities.
A community of tiny houses was another GNV4ALL proposal to help address homelessness. Last month, county commissioners sought to facilitate the building of smaller homes in "cottage neighborhoods" by relaxing requirements for them.
GNV4ALL also called on the state to fully fund the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which uses a real-estate tax to fund affordable housing across Florida. But state lawmakers this past session once again raided most of the money for other purposes.
Like so many issues, Gainesville will largely have to figure out its affordable housing problem on its own. While our community is lucky to have several programs helping people who face homelessness, we need to do more to prevent people from experiencing such desperate circumstances.