Colonnade Park in Inverness

Artist rendering of Colonnade Park in Inverness

Two hundred local families get subsidized housing vouchers through the Citrus County Housing Services division allowing them an affordable place to live. About 300 more are on a waiting list for help.

But getting into a voucher program or qualifying for housing based on income is only the first step. Regardless of how low-income housing is subsidized, whether through federal tax cuts or  vouchers, often the biggest hurdle is finding affordable housing in the first place that participates in the programs. In Citrus County, there’s a shortage.

But that shortage will ease a little as Fort Lauderdale developer Green Mills Group now breaks ground to build a 106-unit affordable housing complex in Inverness on Colonade Street near Forest Drive. The apartments are slated for completion in the fall of 2020.

“There’s really a strong demand for affordable housing in Citrus County," said Oscar Sol, founder and principle owner of Green Mills Group.

The business also built Forrest Ridge in Hernando, a 119-unit affordable housing complex for senior citizens.

Sol said the rental charges for the Inverness complex will be based on income and family size, but that the complex will also participate with the Housing Choice Voucher Program, also known as the Section 8’s housing voucher program. Sol said that the complex will have a mix of mostly one-bedroom, one-bath and two-bedroom, two-bath apartments and will be professionally managed with onsite amenities that will include a pool, fitness center, club house and game room.

Sol said there is plenty of demand for affordable housing in the county and he has no fear that the area will be saturated anytime soon with apartments. In addition, the new Colonnade Park project is a fair distance from Forrest Ridge.

Sol said he wanted to build another seniors affordable housing complex, but that grants that were available now dictated that it be a mixed-family complex in an “area of opportunity” with good schools and employment opportunities. The intent is to attract working families and individuals to areas with established opportunities such as jobs and education opportunities, he said.

The project will receive federal tax credits. Sol said U.S. Bank is the lender for the $15 million project and will receive federal tax incentives of $15 million over 10 years in tax credits. Green Mills Group will own the property.

“I think there is an extreme need for this kind of housing,” said Tammy Harris, director of Citrus County’s Housing Services division.

Many families are just one unexpected expense away from being broke and “two paychecks from being homeless,” she said. “That’s why developers like this are important.”

Harris said the Citrus County Housing Services division helped steer a $70,000 grant to the Inverness project through Florida’s State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP).

It’s grants and tax breaks that the federal and local governments utilize to help coax developers to the county, Harris said.

The help is sorely needed, according to United Way’s latest ALICE Report for Florida, which every two years takes a comprehensive look at county populations' income and the cost of living. ALICE is an acronym for asset-limited, income-constrained and employed. The study analyzes

The fair market rent value for a two-bedroom apartment in Citrus County is $795, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. A three-bedroom is $1,105.

Nearly 20 percent of Citrus County households in 2017 had a median annual income of between $15,000 and $24,999, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Even at the annual $24,999 income, a household would have to work nearly 67 hours to pay monthly rent. That does not include taxes or other withholdings from salary.

If the household earned $15,000 a year, the household would have to work nearly 111 hours per month to pay rent.

About 22.5 percent of Citrus County households had a median household annual income of between $25,000 and $34,999.

The estimated mean renter wage in Citrus County is $11.33 per hour, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

That’s about $23,566 per year, not including taxes or other withholdings.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition recommends that someone earning $11.33 per hour could afford to spend no more than $589 per month on rent. In Citrus County, on average, that’s just under the monthly cost of a zero-bedroom — or studio — apartment. A one-bedroom apartment, on average, rents for $600 per month.

To make ends meet, many people need help with rent, Harris said.

Section 8 vouchers typically cover 35 percent to 45 percent of rental costs, she said, and her department tells participants, which county housing accepts the vouchers.

Contact Chronicle reporter Fred Hiers at fred.hiers@chronicleonline.com or 352-397-5914.

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