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As the saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

When it comes to addressing the shortage of affordable housing, it’s a long journey with no easy answers. But I’m encouraged that the County Council has taken a step toward acknowledging the problem and examining underlying causes and potential solutions.

That step came during an approximately 70-minute discussion at our last council meeting, where the challenges were laid out in very clear and unmistakable terms.

In short, there simply aren’t nearly enough affordable housing options for Volusia County residents who are in the low-, very low- or extremely low-income categories. What’s affordable?

By most measures, affordable is where housing expenses account for no more than 30 percent of your income. For far too many, this is simply unattainable. If they’re not homeless, they’re cost-burdened — spending so much of their income to keep a roof over their head that it doesn’t leave enough to cover other bills and necessities. And that just leads to family poverty that’s passed on from one generation to the next.

So how do you break the cycle? That will be the topic of discussion at an upcoming series of virtual workshops, breakout sessions, an in-person summit and follow-up work groups that are in the planning stages. 

The goal is to spark community partnerships, affordable housing projects and prosperity initiatives to ensure an adequate supply of workforce housing and a path out of poverty.

Generational poverty is a difficult problem to solve. There are many root causes, and certainly unaffordable and unattainable housing is one of them. For many, affordable housing is simply out of reach or nonexistent. For others, they might be able to afford housing, but there are other nonfinancial barriers. For instance, they might have a credit problem, bankruptcy or previous eviction on their record that could make it difficult to get a lease, even if they have the money.

Another problem we see is where someone who’s receiving financial assistance gets a promotion or better-paying job and then no longer qualifies for the assistance, bringing them right back to where they started. Some call this the fiscal cliff. My hope is that we can find a way to continue to help and transform that cliff into a bridge to opportunity for low-income residents working to improve their circumstances.

I have a great deal of respect for the consistent and persistent commitment of the FAITH group — Fighting Against Injustice Towards Harmony — to keep affordable housing a front-burner issue. 

At this point, everything is on the table for discussion. We’re going to be looking at housing trusts and community land trusts, trying to identify a dedicated source of funds to support affordable housing and reaching out to other communities that have tackled this problem for examples of best practices and successful initiatives. 

We’re going to see if there are inducements the county can offer to be a catalyst for change. And we’re going to work with community partners like financial institutions, One Voice for Volusia, the Florida Housing Coalition, and our Affordable Housing Advisory Committee for help in developing new ideas, new approaches and a plan of action.

Too often, discussions of tough issues end with no resolution. This time, I’m optimistic. Somehow, the discussion at the last County Council meeting seemed different. 

The hardest part of this journey — taking that first step — is done. I remain a staunch advocate for action on this issue. And the time for action is now!

— Girtman, of DeLand, represents District 1 on the Volusia County Council.

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