Alachua County Commission selects new chair, approves $340,000 in federal aid for landlord utility rental assistance initiative

Households automatically eligible for the program are shown in orange and green shaded areas. (Courtesy of Alachua County)

The Alachua County Commission elected a new chair and vice chair at its special meeting Tuesday before voting to use millions in federal aid for several initiatives, including a pilot program to help local landlords make their properties more energy efficient.

The Alachua County Commission selected incumbent Vice Chair Anna Prizzia to replace Marihelen Wheeler as its Chair and Commissioner-elect Mary Alford to replace Prizzia as Vice Chair.

The commission also voted unanimously to allocate $340,000 for a pilot assisted housing program for renters in unincorporated Alachua County and smaller municipalities in the county with high utility and utility rates.

The Affordable Housing Energy Efficiency and Weatherization Program is intended to encourage landlords to upgrade their properties to be more energy efficient, theoretically reducing energy costs and related rental prices and saving tenants money in the long run.

The pilot program, which is expected to serve and upgrade 15 households, will begin in January and run until August. The county will then evaluate the program’s performance and vote on whether to approve the entire initiative, which, combined with the pilot program, awards $3 million to landlords from January 2023 to December 2026.

Participating landlords will have to commit not to increase their rents above inflation for the duration of the scheme. The maximum amount a landlord can receive per property is $5,000 for a three-year availability commitment, $10,000 for a five-year availability commitment, and $15,000 for a seven-year availability commitment.

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Community activist Kali Blount, who serves on the Gainesville Police Advisory Council, criticized the planned terms of the landlord affordability obligation, calling them pathetic. Blount said the terms are not enough to support tenants and that terms of 10, 15 or 20 years would be better to properly support families living in rental properties.

Blount criticized the commission for providing funding to landlords when those landlords haven’t adequately insured their tenants for years. Blount said the initiative in its current form is useless.

The county’s report on the initiative, included in the meeting agenda, cited recent and projected increases in energy prices from the county’s major service providers as evidence that the project is needed. That includes data from Gainesville Regional Utilities, Clay Electric Cooperative and Duke Energy, the latter of which said it estimates its customers will see a 13 percent increase in costs in 2023, according to a county report.

Funds are directed primarily to properties in certain low-income communities throughout the county in accordance with federal guidelines, particularly to specific communities in designated qualified census tracts established by the federal government. Communities in these tracts are automatically eligible to participate in the program. Townships in much of western Alachua County, including Archer, Newberry and High Springs, are not included in the census.

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Households not included in the census can still apply to the county for the initiative if they are recipients of any of 11 federal benefit programs, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Pell grants.

Households located within the city of Gainesville are not eligible to participate in the initiative. Commissioner-elect Ken Cornell has expressed interest in expanding the program to Gainesville, including east Gainesville, to alleviate the city’s housing problems.

Tamara Robbins, another community activist, criticized the proposal to include Gainesville in the project. She said the county will once again prioritize the city over smaller municipalities in the county, which she said are routinely ignored in favor of programs primarily benefiting Gainesville.

Robbins also expressed concern about the county’s efforts to engage the community in the project. Households not included in the qualifying census would have to be aware of the initiative to request it instead of being automatically included, as would households located in those tracts, Robbins said.

Two measurable indicators of success for the pilot program, as outlined in the report, are reducing the energy burden of at least 15 energy-insecure rental households and avoiding negative health impacts and hospitalizations from COVID-19 due to a lack of affordable housing.

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The county is partnering with two local nonprofits with housing expertise, Rebuilding Together North Central Florida and the Community Weatherization Coalition, on this initiative. The two nonprofits currently have methods in place that can track participant demographics, which will be key to the pilot’s success metrics, according to the report.

Information about the initiative will be disseminated through methods already used by the Community Weatherization Coalition, including participation in public events in qualified neighborhoods and relying on networks built by the coalition and other community partners through word of mouth, social media and websites, according to a district release.

The county is independently implementing new energy efficiency standards for rental units in unincorporated areas of the county and will work with code enforcement to provide informational materials about the program directly to landlords whose units fail the initial energy efficiency inspection.

The county hopes to have the program up and running by January 16.


This is the latest news. Check back for further developments. Contact WUFT News by calling 352-392-6397 or email [email protected].


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