United Way investing $1M to increase affordable housing in 3 Black Florida neighborhoods

United Way's Melanie Patz said they aim to give every Northeast Florida resident a chance to perform better than the previous generation "regardless of the color of their skin or ZIP code."

The United Way of Northeast Florida is making a $1 million investment to increase affordable housing in three of Jacksonville’s historically Black and low-income neighborhoods.

According to The Florida Times-Union, the investment, announced last week, was made possible by philanthropist MacKenzie Scott’s $20 million donation to defend and expand affordable property ownership in the city.

Melanie Patz, president and CEO of United Way’s Northeast Florida branch, said the nonprofit aims to give every resident a chance to perform better than the previous generation “regardless of the color of their skin or ZIP code.”

Volunteers Jordan Mullens (left) and Seyi Oyeyemi (right) scrape and paint the front of a home in Jacksonville’s Eastside neighborhood as part of the United Way of Northeast Florida’s Freedom Weekend in June 2021. The agency is now investing $1 million to increase affordable housing in that area. (Photo: Bob Self/Florida Times-Union/USA TODAY NETWORK)

“We are thrilled for the families whose lives will irrevocably change because of this investment,” said Patz, The Times-Union reported. “With the help of our partners, we’re ensuring residents who have lived in these neighborhoods for decades — or even generations — can safely and sustainably remain in their homes, while taking a critical first step toward building wealth and improving their economic mobility.”

A home-improvement initiative run by Groundwork Jacksonville in collaboration with the North Riverside Community Development Corp. will receive $600,000. The program aims to renovate owner-occupied homes in the North Riverside neighborhoods of Lackawanna and Mixon Town.

Groundwork USA, LISC Jacksonville and the Edna Sproull Williams Foundation will match the $600,000 through the Climate Preparedness and Land Restoration Initiative. According to United Way, the $1.2 million would improve 46 families’ living conditions, property values and quality of life, among other things.

An LISC Jacksonville program that addresses concerns with heirs’ property rights will get $100,000 of the investment. The United Way estimates that 29,000 Jacksonville homes are in jeopardy because their owners passed away without a will, frequently leaving heirs with unclear titles, which can prevent access to disaster aid and loans for home improvements.

“Our partnership with United Way provides a vital lifeline for the work we are doing to help families in some of our most challenged neighborhoods maintain their homes,” said IrvinPeDro Cohen, executive director of LISC Jacksonville, according to The Times-Union. “It is this type of creativity in terms of fiscal support and meeting people where they are that will allow us to collectively address the issues associated with affordable housing.”

The Historic Eastside Community Development Corp. and LIFT JAX will get $300,000 and use it for their Restore & Repair initiative. 

United Way says that assisting longtime Eastside residents with house upgrades may ensure that people stay in place and prosper in safe, stable housing.

In its Jan. 10 announcement, the nonprofit also said a task committee was formed to recommend further spending from Scott’s 2020 donation for “long-term affordable housing solutions.”

The committee — which includes community leaders, neighborhood partners and housing experts — will continue its work through June and make recommendations.

Aundra Wallace is a board member of the United Way and co-chair of the task group.

“Word is out … about our region,” said Wallace, The Times-Union reported. “Jacksonville is growing.”

Wallace mentioned the city’s estimated daily increase of 85 residents through 2025, but he said that expansion, labor and supply chain bottlenecks, rent increases and a median home price of $340,000 had exacerbated its current housing dilemma.

Referring to affordable housing as a “humanitarian issue,” Wallace said, “It is important we don’t leave anyone behind.”

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