Lakeland city commissioners considered the establishment of a trust fund in a workshop held Monday to consider how to better serve the city’s affordable housing needs.

The trust fund is a suggestion by representatives at PEACE — Polk Ecumenical Action Council for Empowerment, a coalition of 21 churches that unite around social action.

“It was proposed after the City Commission first appropriated what has been an annual commitment of $250,000 from the city general fund and an additional $250,000 of Community Redevelopment Agency funds,” said Planning and Housing Manager Teresa Maio.

Since 2018, 456 affordable housing units have been completed or in progress, the city reports. They include Providence Reserve off Providence Road with 140 units and Twin Lakes II near Lake Beulah with 132 units.

To date, the city’s cap for affordable housing is at 80% to 120% of area median income — AMI. The limits are set by HUD and based on a family of four at $58,000.

“But a household can include any number of persons,” Maio said. “City and CRA funds can serve any household size earning up to 80% of AMI, which is considered low income.”

The existing process for the current funding is to issue a request for applications for developers to submit projects, Maio said in the workshop.

“I would think (the trust fund) would be a matter of maintaining that same process, but increasing what those funds are, and being more specific in any requests for applications if there is a limit on income levels,” she said.

A trust fund would allow the city to match priorities with a predictable funding source, she added.

Interim Commissioner Don Selvage suggested that establishing a new trust fund is layering more bureaucracy into the goal of more affordable housing in the city.

“Like all of you, I favor finding ways to make housing more affordable,” he said. “Shouldn’t our focus be on more of a partnership with the Lakeland Housing Authority than trying to do a separate effort?”

A housing trust fund has several key components, according to Maio. There are administrative issues, such as determining who is eligible to receive the funds and what populations would benefit from housing. A major component is determining where the funds come from.

Commissioner Stephanie Madden asked how a new affordable housing trust fund would benefit the city better than the current process.

If there was a dedicated source of funding, like a trust fund, to provide additional money, it gives assurance to the community that additional units can be provided more quickly, Maio responded.

“If you want to realize additional units in general, then that would be one way to do it, through the housing trust fund; and then if you want to specify who would be served by those dollars, that would be another component to that trust fund that you could incorporate,” she said.

Maio provided a table that showed the limited amount of resources Lakeland Housing Authority has. A trust fund would allow private developers to step in and execute projects more quickly, she said.

“The city brings to the table access to funding resources that Lakeland Housing Authority cannot,” Selvage said.

“Yes,” Maio responded.

Commissioner Chad McLeod asked if there’s a way to achieve the same result of providing affordable housing to those within a certain income without the use of a trust fund.

That’s what the $250,000 does, Maio told him. But a trust fund provides some certainty through an extended period of time, rather than having to wait on the annual budget process to see if it gets picked up again.

Commissioner Stephanie Madden weighed in, speaking to the growth in Lakeland, and how there’s a housing challenge for everybody at all income levels, including single mothers, veterans, and the elderly.

She said the city could benefit by being “open for businesss” for private companies to build multi-family units within the city.

“If we want to collect charitable dollars to add value to that $250,000 pot, in my mind, it’s already like a trust fund,” she said. “Could we use this the same strategy to get charitable dollars?”

Commissioner Phillip Walker commented that it appears commissioners are leaning toward favoring the existing programming for affordable housing.

“How can we make it more plausible to bring dollars to the table to support what we’re currently doing under the operations that we already have in place?” he asked.

Mayor Bill Mutz chimed in to say the trust fund issue was raised so there could be more programmatic elements.

“Would we be willing to accept and receive private dollars into that same system?” Mutz asked rhetorically. “I think the answer is probably is ‘yes.’ ”

After all commissioners agreed, Mutz concluded that the consensus is to continue on its same path.

After the workshop, Maio reiterated that the City’s funding commitment serves already as a trust fund, and the City will seek additional funding potentially through private donations.

”If we can figure out ways to encourage some entities to provide additional private dollars alongside the existing annual budgeted commitment of the city for affordable housing, we will facilitate that,” Mutz said.

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