St. Johns County, with its excellent schools, recreational offerings and natural amenities, has earned a reputation as a highly desirable place to live. The statistics tell the story: Between 2013 and 2022, the county’s population has increased 43%.
And as people settle here from other places, supply and demand — among other factors — have caused home prices to surge and availability of affordable housing and rental units to fall.
As a result, those who make up the county’s workforce are increasingly unable to find a place they can call home. And that includes many of the very people who make the county such a desirable place to begin with, “essential” workers like teachers, nurses and first responders. But also, hospitality and food service workers and others.
To seek solutions to this growing problem, the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce formed an Attainable Housing Coalition in 2022. Recently, the coalition released its white paper detailing the issue and suggesting possible strategies.
The findings formed the backbone of a presentation made at the Chamber’s Economic Development Breakfast on Friday, Sept. 22.
Victor Raymos, association executive and CEO of the St. Johns County and St. Augustine Board of Realtors, succinctly described the core issue.
“We have an affordable housing crisis in St. Johns County,” he said.
Speaker Mark Nighbor, revenue architect with One Mark Consulting, presented the white paper’s findings and methodology. He addressed the two challenges workers face when looking for a home: affordability and availability.
At the time the study was done, the median price of a home in St. Johns County was $510,000. In August, it rose to $550,000, but the study was predicated upon the earlier, lower figure. Estimates were conservative and fixed at a single point in the fluctuating market conditions.
The analysis found that a buyer would need an income of $176,160 to afford a home at the median price, assuming the purchaser spent no more than 30% of his or her income on housing.
This means none of those essential workers could afford the home on single-earner wages.
So, using the $260,000 determined by the county as the maximum price that housing could be deemed “workforce,” the numbers were run again.
To afford a house at this price, a buyer would need an annual income of at least $97,400. Though some essential workers could afford this if they were married to other essential workers, it was still out of reach for those on single incomes.
In fact, even the combined income of a higher-earning essential worker and a hospitality worker would be insufficient.
Renting, too, remained out of reach.
According to the study, a food service or hospitality worker would need to spend more than half his or her monthly income to rent a one-bedroom home. Only two of the worker classifications in the study, a nurse or a manufacturing worker, could afford to rent a one-bedroom home on a single income.
Even where a worker can afford the lower-price home, availability is extremely limited.
Nighbor offered a few ideas that could help but said no single action would fix the problem. Rather, it would require a combination of things.
“The most important thing at the core of this is the comprehensive plan that’s being worked on right now that will be finalized next year,” he said. “It is imperative that we have a component for attainable housing that’s built into the comprehensive plan if we want any level of sustainability of a solution for us, long term.”
The second speaker was Jerry D. Parrish Ph.D., chief economist for the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.
He addressed the economic impact of adding affordable units. He pointed out that impact fees and ad valorum taxes on these homes would actually benefit the county. He based his numbers largely on the construction of 5,000 smaller housing units — 801 to 1,250 square feet — over five years, with two-thirds being single-family homes and the rest multi units.
Parrish said this would generate $63.43 million in impact fees. It would also result in 1,475 jobs, most of which would be directly connected to the construction.
Using $180,000 for the price of a single-family home and $80,000 for an apartment, these 5,000 units would generate more than $28 million in ad valorum taxes in the first five years and more than $9 million annually after that.
“This is not a charity, where you’re giving people free houses,” he said. “The county actually brings in income on these types of things.”
Meanwhile, workers who cannot afford to live in St. Johns County are forced to commute, which creates traffic congestion and wear on county infrastructure. And it also poses a potential problem for employers here.
“If they’re driving in here 40 miles to take a job each way, every day, and one comes open in their neighborhood where they don’t have to commute so far, you’re going to lose even more of those workers here,” said Parrish.
To read the entire white paper, Parrish’s presentation, and related materials or to watch a short video on the topic, go to sjcchamber.com/attainable-housing.