The creation of an affordable housing trust fund is justice, said Cynthia Slater, branch president of the Daytona Beach-Volusia County NAACP, on behalf of FAITH, a nonprofit coalition composed of almost 30 religious congregations in the county.
On Monday, Oct. 30, FAITH, which stands for Fighting Against Injustice Toward Harmony, held a community problems assembly at Allen Chapel AME in Daytona where it asked candidates running for Volusia County Council chair whether they would help push the county, if elected, to allocate at least $2.5 million of its $55 million unallocated coronavirus relief dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act to begin a local affordable housing trust fund.
"We're not asking the government to solve the affordable housing crisis with their money, but with our money," Slater said. "Elected officials represent us. In this room, there are people from almost any walk of life you can imagine. It is somewhat of a miracle that diverse political agendas can come together and focus on what we can agree on."
And FAITH's members agree that Volusia County needs affordable housing.
At a County Council meeting on Oct. 3, FAITH members flooded the council chambers in support of the Transform386 Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery Action Plan, which dedicated $200 million for housing solutions, including repairing or replacing homes and rental units damaged by Hurricane Ian and dedicating $50 million of the funds to construct new affordable housing units.
The plan passed 5-2, with councilmen Don Dempsey and Danny Robins voting against the plan.
"It is time to add more affordable housing," Slater said. "And we as a people of FAITH are going to continue to work with a systemic solution."
The stories behind the need
Its coalition of congregations — which include Historic New Bethel AME Church, Lighthouse Christ Presbyterian Church, Tomoka United Methodist Church and Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Ormond Beach — held 48 meetings this fall, asking residents what community problems concern them. A total of 127 people shared stories about the need for affordable housing. The assembly also touched on the issues of mental health, criminal justice and flooding.
At the assembly, attended by more than 300 people, Fran Owings, of Port Orange, shared her story.
After her apartment was flooded by a hurricane a few years ago, she and her grandson lived a traumatic experience when they had to be rescued in the middle of the night. She lost her car, clothes and furniture, she said. Owings and her grandson then moved into an apartment, but soon discovered it was plagued with mold.
"Despite multiple requests, management would not fix the problem," Owings said. "We stayed there for nearly a year because we couldn't afford anywhere else to go."
When the mold continued to make them sick, Owings said they refused to pay rent and were evicted. They lived in hotels for a time before staying at her sister's house until it was sold. Her grandson then moved in with a relative, and she began sleeping in her car.
Almost half of all Volusia County renters are paying over half of their monthly income on rent, according to FAITH. To afford a one-bedroom apartment, based on median rent, a renter would need to earn over $23 an hour.
The fair market rent in the Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach metro area, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is $1,152 for a one-bedroom apartment for fiscal year 2024. It's increased by $89 since fiscal year 2023.
According to Rent.com, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Daytona Beach as of Oct. 30 is $1,664.
A call for action
A housing trust fund will support projects that create local housing opportunities to help solve the affordable housing crisis, said Pastor Matt Mello, of Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church in Port Orange.
"We know that there are state funds for housing that get raised every year in Tallahassee," Mello said. "Because this money does not often get to Volusia County, we cannot rely on it as the solution to our problem."
An affordable housing trust fund, FAITH states, would allow Volusia County to control the funding at the local level without having to abide by state or federal guidelines. It would also would attract affordable housing developers.
"Currently, Volusia County is a place that gets largely ignored by affordable housing developers," Mello said.
If anything was learned at the assembly, it's that stories are powerful, said Rev. Floyd Narcisse, of Historic New Bethel AME Church in Ormond Beach.
"The stories like these you heard tonight are a call for action," Narcisse said. "It's a call for all of us to do something."