West Augustine Residents Urged to Prepare for Homeownership as the CRA Moves Forward with Affordable Housing Project for Longtime Residents

First time home ownership program St. Augustine Florida

West Augustine residents are urged to prepare for homeownership, as the West Augustine Community Redevelopment Agency Steering Committee wants to help long-time residents become homeowners instead of falling prey to the increasingly high rents in the area.

"We are being boxed in. We have to make sure that we are aware of what is happening around us, we cannot dismiss anyone. It's right on our front doorsteps. We can either be a part of the solution, or we can be a part of the problem. The solution is coming forth and doing something to make sure that you are part of this process," says West Augustine CRA co-chair Dwala Willis. "West Augustine residents come on out, let's do this...you've got enough time to prepare, let's not miss the moment."

In August, the St. Johns County Commissioners voted to approve a request from the West Augustine CRA to set aside 120 parcels of land for affordable housing. The West Augustine CRA is now working together with the St. Johns County Housing and Financial Counseling Program, the St. Johns County Housing Partnership, Habitat and local Mastercraft Builder Chris Shee to bring affordable homes to many of these parcels focusing on reaching out to long-time West Augustine residents, so that they can remain in the area despite of the threat of gentrification in the wake of rising housing and rental costs as well as investors coming into the area.

Willis explains that these parcels are meant to be a combination of workforce housing combined with housing for the lower income-brackets such as para-professionals, certified nursing assistants, and for single parents, who cannot otherwise afford their own home. "You have to go through the process," says Willis. "People are learning that there is a process. You have condition yourself to do this."

There has been a plan in place since 2000 to bring affordable housing to West Augustine residents, and many residents have become homeowners through this process already. The process includes filling out an application for the St. Johns County Housing and Financial Counseling Program. The program costs $18, which covers the credit card pulls. Once a person submits the application, they will be contacted by the St. Johns County Housing and Financial Counseling department, which will then begin the counseling process. 

"Credit counseling is where it starts," says Robert Nimmons, chair of the West Augustine CRA. He expresses frustration with the high rents in the area, but he points to the application for first time homeownership, which can be the solution for many residents in the area. "The hope is to get a pilot program moving sometime within the next six months, where we will start up with 2 or 3 lots. A lot of them are ready to go."

In order to receive these houses, you have to be prepared," says Willis. "We want everyone to get a mortgage that they are comfortable with, something that they can financially be able to do and take care of their families and live. There is a process, and we need you to stick with the process. If there is a point, where there are some hiccups, please reach out to a CRA member. We are here to encourage, we are here to promote you through this process and to walk you through this process. That's what we do. If there is any problem that you feel we can come in and help with, please let us know.  We will reach out to the resource to make sure that you stay on track. We are trying to get you to homeownership."

The program can be found here: http://www.sjcfl.us/Housing/HomeOwnProgram/

St. Johns County Housing and Financial Counseling program
The St. Johns County Housing and Financial Counseling program web page 

You can contact the Housing & Community Development Office at (904) 827-6890, and those who cannot access the Internet can contact the West Augustine CRA to pick up a print application. Members of the West Augustine CRA will also be able to assist with the application process, if need be. Katrina Mayers is the West Augustine CRA affordable housing chair, and she can be contacted via email or phone.  

West Augustine CRA owned Land for Development
West Augustine CRA owned land for development

Nimmons explains how the West Augustine CRA identified which parcels they owned, before going to the county with their pro-bono attorney Ellen Avery Smith to get a resolution set aside for affordable housing on these parcels. The CRA is now in phase 2, where they are seeking different builders and developers to develop on any of the parcels. "We are starting on areas, where sewer and water will be easily accessible, and we are working with the county and the city to make a plan to find money to put toward this project," says Nimmons.

"We are trying to bring any and every entity and organization together to empower us to move this forth, because it is just that important," says Willis. "People now see the importance of this. We have been so overshadowed by all of the growth in the northern end of the county. We are grateful that they are bringing their resources, time and talent to the table to assist a community that has been here for years, that has been underserved, systemically underserved. It is time. It is going to take a village approach to do this, it is going to take the county and a plethora of resources. There is always room at this table."

Nimmons explains that: "If you look at the LMI - Low to Moderate income - they look at what the area is making, and they build a percentage around it. It goes up to 140 percent, because if you have a single mom that is a CNA, or a frontline worker at a school, or she is a janitorial worker, or she is working in a retail store, there will be an opportunity for the CRA to work with the county to look for deep subsidies to make sure that the program is geared toward that CNA worker, that frontline worker, or that bus driver."

Willis continues by explaining that "When this program first started out, the majority of the people were single parents. There are some married couples, but the majority of them have been single parents from this community from when we just started to now. Nobody is exempt. It is about your finances, it is about your desire to be a homeowner. It is about your desire to maintain your presence in West Augustine, to keep your heritage and your essence in place. That's what it's about. Nobody is exempt from this. Our target will be to help those who helped build this community.

Some of the first homes will be built in the Aiken Street/Josiah Street/N. Volusia Street area, because of the easy access and resources available.

Josiah Street West Augustine, Florida
Josiah Street, West Augustine, Florida

The corner of Aiken St. and Volusia St. In West Augustine Florida
The corner of Aiken Street and Volusia Street in West Augustine, Florida. 

In addition to the affordable homes being built on the parcels mentioned above, there are also townhouses coming at the Kings Crossing project in West Augustine being built by the Corner Lot developer on the southside of West King Street by Duval Street. The Kings Crossing project (Formerly Spanish Forest) will include at least 43 1300 sq ft townhomes that can be sold at no more than $240,000. This workforce housing project will be for families making around $70,000 a year. "We don't want the community to sleep on it," says Nimmons. "We want to make sure that they realize that we don't want to sleep on this opportunity, because by the time it hits the market, it is gone." 

Florida is now the most populous state in the country based on U.S. Census data, and a recent study on Florida migration released by the moving company MoveBuddha shows that St. Augustine now ranks third after Ocala and Sarasota, when it comes to how many people move into an area compared to those moving out.

Top 10 moving destinations in Florida 2022

West Augustine is feeling the impact of the excessive growth in many ways due to its high location and its proximity to downtown St. Augustine, and many long-time residents are being forced out of the predominantly African American community by the influx of people willing to pay higher rents in a similar fashion to what has happened in Lincolnville over the past decades. As it is everywhere in St. Johns County, developers are buying up any available land, and residents are inundated with mailings and text messages requesting to buy their properties.

"We're losing a lot of property," says Willis. "I don't want to be excluding gentrification. I know I can't stop it, the CRA can't stop it, nobody can. We want to make sure that we are not excluded out of the process in West Augustine. We see it happening in the community with our eyes wide open. We cannot repeat that. It is not fair to the people, who built these communities. What we are doing is striving to strengthen West Augustine, and strengthen the future community, so that we can stay relevant, and the essence remains intact. That's what the CRA is trying to do, and that is the legacy that we want to keep in place forever." 

Willis continues to strongly encourage the community to come out and participate in the process. "It is a golden opportunity to be a homeowner, no matter what income you are. We want to preserve the legacy of West Augustine. This is a foundation of future things to come. We have to start laying down some foundations so that people will always know, who built this community, and who were the integral parts of it. Gentrification is here, but I believe a good foundational structure as far as housing is the foundation for our kids to strive, to be healthy and to be successful. We gotta set the foundation for future generations. We are a struggling community, but we have to put the self-effort in. We can only put the resource to you, but you have to come and participate. Please come and support us, please come and be a part of this great thing."

Prepare for West Augustine Homeownership:

Learn more about the St. Johns County Housing and Financial Counseling Program here.

Check out the St. Johns County Housing and Financial Counseling brochure here. 

Fill out the St. Johns County Housing and Financial Counseling application– here.

Contact the Housing & Community Development Office at (904) 827-6890.

Learn more about the West Augustine CRA and find contact information here. 

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