Residential Real Estate
Housing inflation is becoming a bigger concern across the region.
On Sundays, the housing topic doesn't go away: At St. John's Episcopal at Wewahitchka, the conversation among McNair's fellow churchgoers frequently touches on the church's current mission, developing St. John's Village, a 250-home community for senior citizens. "We're trying to keep phase one home prices around $95,000,'' says McNair. "We think the absorption rate will be between 50 and 75 homes a year.''
As Baby Boomers discover the Gulf Coast as a second-home getaway, Panhandle officials worry about providing homes that wage-earners, newcomers and retirees can afford. Land and home prices along the coast are skyrocketing, driving middle- and low-income residents up-county and creating housing shortfalls there while also forcing long commutes to jobs. Average home prices in the coastal counties of Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton climbed 22% to 41% last year.
"We have 2,800 jobs coming on line and don't have adequate affordable housing," says Opportunity Florida Executive Director Rick Marcum, referring to expansions under way in distribution, manufacturing and state prisons. There's a shortage of contractors willing to go after that niche in the market, he says.
Marcum is working on a plan to build 1,000 homes under $100,000 across the eight counties served by the regional rural development program he heads. "Lack of housing for workers is going to stymie growth of high-end housing. If you can't house the labor force, you can't have one,'' Marcum says.
In Washington County -- where mobile homes make up 38% of all housing, according to a 2002 survey -- the biggest project Chipley Mayor Tommy McDonald is tackling this year is working with developers on home construction in the $100,000 range. "We're in desperate need," he says.
Last year's hurricanes worsened the problem, says Dan Gilmore, a Pensacola developer and president of the Florida Homebuilders Association. That's especially true in Escambia County, where Rebuild Northwest Florida leaders estimate Hurricane Ivan destroyed or damaged 51,000 homes -- nearly half of the housing stock. Increasing urban density could be a way to lower costs and encourage affordable development, Gilmore suggests.
At coastal Port St. Joe, developer/builder Allen Cox is part of a community coalition promoting workforce housing. He's building Bridgeport, 36 houses priced less than $120,000 each. "Our company, CQ Developments, is committed to 25% of our annual sales for people who live and work here. (But) the real volume of increase we're seeing is people inquiring for second and third homes in the $500,000 to $1.5-million range."