A sound idea to recruit teachers, law officers and other public servants to Pasco County through a low-cost, new-home program imploded last week because of changed market conditions, a lack of commitment from the state and the inability of the county to shoulder a larger financial burden than first projected.
The Pasco Commission was correct to pull the plug on giving $700,000 toward the Community Workforce Housing Innovative Program, an effort first approved by the Pasco School Board in late 2007 and by the commission a month later. It called for building low-cost townhomes on school district property next to Marlowe Elementary in New Port Richey and stand-alone houses in the Ten Oaks development in Zephyrhills with the housing made available to government and school district workers earning modest wages.
It was a laudable goal undone by circumstances beyond county government's control. The original concept included a $5 million state grant, an appropriation ultimately cut almost in half. Meanwhile, the School Board dropped out at as participant, leaving only the county and the Ten Oaks site as an alternative. But the cost to the county was too great, effectively exhausting federal neighborhood stabilization dollars that could be put to better use elsewhere.
We liked this work force housing initiative as first proposed in 2007, but at the time the median price for a Tampa Bay area home was nearly $230,000. A family would have needed a household income of $75,000 to qualify for a traditional 30-year mortgage and the yearly salary for a Pasco schoolteacher was about $40,000.
While teachers and other government workers have been without raises for nearly four years, the price of a home has fallen dramatically, making this program obsolete for the time being.
Too, it could have emptied the same pot of money that East and Central Pasco Habitat for Humanity hopes to tap to help build 50 new homes in the economically depressed area of Lacoochee in northeast Pasco. In addition, the federal neighborhood stabilization fund is designed to help salvage existing, foreclosed housing in economically troubled areas, not to build new housing in a new neighborhood.
Work force housing may yet be needed at some future date, but the effort can't be justified now considering the abundance of available and affordable homes on the market.