A housing report Palm Coast government is required to submit to federal authorities every five years, presented to the City Council today, opens an alarming window into the city’s most dire housing needs and stresses for middle and lower-income residents.
Most startlingly: 18 percent of households in Palm Coast, por almost one in every five households, make less than half the median household income in the city, and over 2,000 of those make less than 30 percent, placing them in the poverty range.
It’s no surprise to anyone that, as the report notes, “there is a significant need for affordable housing in the City of Palm Coast.” But the illustrative numbers are rare, hard evidence of a need generally discussed only anecdotally, and that affects social service agencies, the school district and of course other local governments, including Palm Coast.
The numbers can be arresting.
Some 10,850 households, or over a third of the city’s 30,000 households, earn less than 80 percent of household median income, making them middle to lower-income. Among them, 7,080 are owner-occupied, and 3,770 are renter-occupied.
Of those, 6,675, or 61 percent, are facing housing costs that exceed the 30 percent threshold. Housing costs include mortgage, rent, or utilities. When housing costs devour more than 30 of a family budget, household members are often faced with hard decisions on what bills to pay to make ends meet, making choices between food, gas, rent or credit card payments. Any additional burden of an accident, a major repair, or a serious illness could be catastrophic.
Flagler County’s Housing Authority, which provides housing for lower-income residents, is essentially a drop in the bucket, and it’s outside the city limits. It provides just 126 public housing units in South Bunnell and 257 “housing choice vouchers” that residents may use with landlords who accept them. A caveat: the Housing Authority’s residents are in the extreme-poverty range, earning from zero to 30 percent of the median household income.
Still, the report notes that there are 2,170 such households in Palm Coast, and another 3,135 households that earn only up to 50 percent of the median income. There are 5,555 that earn up to 80 percent, placing them near or in the moderate income category.
The rapidly aging profile of Palm Coast–both of its people and its housing stock–adds another layer of concern as city officials are pointing to a degree of housing repairs and rehabilitation that many existing, aging residents simply may not be able to afford.
The numbers are very likely undercounts, because the city’s report bases them on the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey years of between 2017 and 2017. Palm Coast has experienced rapid growth since. For example, the report–due to be turned in to the federal Housing and Urban Development Department–cites the 2017 household median income as $51,208. According to the 2021 Census estimate, the median household income in Palm Coast was $57,872, a substantial difference. So any household income below $46,000 would be considered moderate to low income.
The 2017 numbers also mask more recent burdens, such as a spike in inflation unseen in 40 years, and a spike, now moderating, in gas prices that disproportionately affect working class residents–those residents who are in the more stressed income categories.
Senior Planner Jose Papa of the city’s community development department presented some of the numbers to the council, passing over the finer and at times grimmer print of the report itself. The presentation proposed the required 2022-26 “consolidated action plan,” itself part of the Community Development Block Grant, or CBGB, program: to be eligible for those federal funds, the city must go through various steps, including having an advisory group, public hearings and presentations such as today’s. But the plan doesn’t propose any substantial changes from the way Palm Coast has spent its CDBG funds in the past.
Other than cursory questions by Mayor David Alfin, who wondered whether some of the CDBG funds could be used for sidewalk improvements along Cimmaron Drive, the way such funds were used for sidewalks in Seminole Woods shortly after the housing bust, none of the council members asked questions. (No, the funds may not be used for Cimmaron Drive improvements: that neighborhood is not economically stressed.)
It’s not as if Palm Coast residents are that interested, either: “This document was made available on our website for 30 days as required by CDBG rules, and we did not receive any comments on the consolidated action,” Papa said.
And in effect, local governments’ roles with CDBG funds is very limited–if not merely cosmetic–especially in comparison with the need the CDBG program exposes. The city administration’s presentation was required, but it was not intended to change much of anything, nor could it, as the budget numbers Papa presented at the end of his presentation indicated. The money Palm Coast has to spend is almost risible, compared to the needs outlined. Nevertheless, the value of this morning’s presentation was in those demographic and economic numbers, a rare, comprehensive look at the depth of the local unaffordable housing crisis.
The CDBG program was established in 1974–when Palm Coast was a few dozen homes–to help communities underwrite housing in different ways for middle and low-income residents, to prevent the incidence of blight or slums, or to help communities in the aftermath of natural disasters.
The assistance can take shape in different ways: financial help for home repairs, financial help to first-time home-buyers, infrastructure improvements in areas inhabited by middle and low-income residents (like the the sidewalk and trail projects in Seminole Woods neighborhood), and money to subsidize such things as summer camp for children in low to middle-income families. Larger counties like Miami Dade and Broward spend some of their grants on building housing stock–either single family homes or apartment buildings–for qualifying residents. Palm Coast doesn’t have such a program.
“The city continues to be an aging community. There continues to be a cost burden for rent or homeownership for our low to moderate income population,” meaning those who earn 80 percent or less of the median income.
The analysis found that:
- 13 percent of all households in the city are occupied by a single person 65 or older. There were a total of 33,264 households by 2020. So no fewer than 4,300 households in the city are occupied by a single, elderly person.
- 49 percent, or 16,300, of Palm Coast’s households have one or more person 65 and older.
- 57 percent of owner-occupied households that are economically stressed–with mortgage or rent and utilities costing more than 30 percent of income–include a person over the age of 62.
- Almost two-thirds of all of Palm Coast’s moderate and lower-income households–61 percent–are paying 30 percent or more for their housing costs–34 percent are owner occupied, 27 percent are renters. “These cost burdened households have a certain vulnerability to financial distress or homelessness,” Papa said, “and that occurs when should the sudden emergency expense occur.”
- Palm Coast has over 700 households where grandparents are responsible for grandchildren.
“To summarize this,” Papa said, “we find that the elderly households that have these situations are more vulnerable due likely to a fixed income or having a single income, or more likely prone to suddenly have a disability that may require the rehabilitation of a home or might make them difficult to proceed with rehabilitating their home so that they might stay within that home, not move to a facility.”
Something else that may surprise existing residents, especially residents of more recent vintage: Almost half of Palm Coast’s housing stock was built before 2000, making it nearly a quarter century old or older. As houses age, major structural items begin to fail–the roof, the air conditioning, the water heater, increasing the maintenance burden on the home’s residents.
“It’s important to recognize that the city’s housing inventory is aging and that additional resources will be needed to maintain the housing stock to a livable condition and to prevent dilapidation of neighborhoods,” Papa said, “because again, you have a home that falls into disrepair, it’s typically not just the person living in that home. They feel the immediate effects of a failing home, or a home that’s not up to standard, but certainly the neighbors in that neighborhood also start to feel that effect too.”
The more elderly the city’s population, the more burdensome the effects, since elderly people can assume the burdens less readily than younger people.
The city’s capacities are limited–and decreasing. In the current year, the city’s entire CDBG adopted budget was $1.2 million, but actual expenditure will amount to $945,000, according to the city’s latest estimates, and even less will be in next year’s budget. Most of this year’s actual CDBG revenue was devoted to housing rehabilitation. Only $11,500 was provided to first-time homebuyers. In other words, nothing substantial to make a difference in today’s home-buying environment.
Papa said the allocation for next year is all of $497,000, with $387660 of that going to the housing rehabilitation program, and $75,000 for public services that tie into social services. The city will take about $35,000 for administration of the program.
In sum, while the report starkly diagnoses housing needs and stresses, it stops short of presenting a roadmap to solutions beyond the all but perfunctory amounts budgeted to address those needs.
The full report and presentation are below.