‘Unlivable’ ‘Unaffordable’ ‘Unsanitary’: Commissioners speak up, one calls Lake Bradford conditions ‘unacceptable’
Commissioner Jack Porter said the city needs to do more to address the affordable housing crisis
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - City Commissioner Jack Porter has joined dozens of residents at Lake Bradford Estates in raising concerns about conditions and costs at the mobile home park.
Her office canvassed the community last week to reach out to residents. Porter said inhabitants should not have to live with what she called unreasonable rent increases and sewage issues, and she hopes to connect them with resources.
“I think that in a lot of cases like this, people just don’t know where to go,” she said. “They’re at their wits end and it’s really important that in these cases we go to them and let them know here are the resources, here’s who to contact.”
The commissioner encouraged residents experiencing conditions they feel are unsanitary or unaffordable to document them. Take photos and videos, she said. And for those experiencing sewage backups, she said residents can turn to the Leon County Health Department.
As for the increased rent costs at Lake Bradford Estates, Porter said those are part of a growing problem across the country.
A lawyer with nonprofit law firm Legal Services of North Florida who is representing dozens of residents at Lake Bradford Estates also pointed out a nationwide issue.
“This is a phenomenon that legal advocates, mobile home advocates, are seeing across the country,” staff attorney Mary Whitehouse said. “Where out-of-state developers are buying up mobile home parks. Oftentimes, they’re in more rural areas… And they come in and they raise the lot rent.”
The commissioner also pointed out added cost strains in the region. She said Tallahassee is experiencing an affordable housing crisis.
“We’re so fortunate in Tallahassee to be a more livable place than many other cities, even in Florida. But that doesn’t mean that we still aren’t facing an affordable housing crisis,” she said. “I see it every day. Residents coming to us facing evictions. Nonprofits, other service providers are dry. There is no money anywhere to go around.”
Whitehouse also said there is a housing crisis in the county. The attorney said she believes Leon County will see an increase in evictions this year.
“Last year, in 2022, we saw there was well over 5,000 evictions filed in Leon County. I don’t know what this year’s going to look like, but to me, it looks like it’s already going to surpass that number,” the attorney said.
The number of landlord-tenant cases have also risen at Lake Bradford Estates. According to the Leon County Clerk of Courts, the mobile home park had the most Landlord-Tenant cases in its history in 2022.
Less than six months into the year, 2023 already has the second-highest number of cases, according to the county clerk of courts records.
Porter said the city should be doing more to address the affordable housing crisis.
“I mean, we are not responding the way that we should at the city level. It’s just simply not true that we’ve done everything that we can do. If it’s a priority, then we’ll find the way to meet the needs,” the commissioner said. “We certainly can’t fix it overnight, but we have got to do something more than we’re doing. And with budget discussions that we’re having currently, it’s so abundantly clear that housing is not a priority for the city right now.”
Housing issues are one of the commissioner’s top priorities, she said, because it affects every other major concern, including issues like public safety, health, and education.
Right now, she said, housing management often has the wrong goals.
“I just don’t believe that housing should be driven by profit at the expense of people going homeless and being evicted,” she said.
Everyone deserves stable housing, she said.
“It’s just so fundamental to being a person. Everyone needs somewhere that they can call home, where they feel safe, where they can take their armor off, where they can experience good times,” she said. “It should not be in question whether this is available.”
City Commissioner Curtis Richardson said affordable housing is a top priority for the city, second only to public safety. He said the city is doing everything possible to address concerns.
“I will not respond to Commissioner Porter, but what I can tell you is that our strategic plan has affordable housing as the second-highest priority of the city of Tallahassee and we are doing all that we can to address that issue in partnership with other organizations throughout the community that are addressing housing, and we’re putting our financial resources into addressing that issue as well,” he said.
When asked about claims that evictions are rising in the area, Richardson said he did not know if that was a problem. The city doesn’t track evictions, he said.
“As a city, that is a private issue between the landlord and the tenant. It’s not something that we can address as a city. Personally, I do have a concern because we don’t want to see any individual or families being displaced and not have a place to call home… But as a city, there’s nothing that we can do to intervene where an eviction is occurring,” he said.
Richardson said affordable housing has not come up in budget hearings for the city’s 2024 fiscal year. He said it’s not unusual for the topic to not come up in those meetings.
“But specifically, about affordable housing, no, those discussions haven’t been had during those budget meetings,” he said. “It’s for us to determine what the budget for the city of Tallahassee will be for the next fiscal year.”
The commissioner said he represents the city in the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee and is on the board for the Tallahassee Lenders Consortium.
He couldn’t name any specific projects the city has slated to address affordable housing concerns but said the city is working on building more spaces for residents to live.
“Well, right now we’ve got about 3,000 units that are either planned or in the process of being constructed now,” he said. “Specific projects, I can’t tell you.”
For residents at Lake Bradford Estates and others experiencing affordable housing issues, Richardson said he doesn’t have a lot to say.
“Nothing. There’s nothing that we can do as a city other than what we’re doing, the initiatives that we’re taking place, the partnerships that we have established with other organizations that are addressing the housing issue,” he said. “We will do everything that we can to make sure that residents of the city of Tallahassee can have an affordable place to live and we’re doing all that we can as a city.”
Porter had a message to send to the residents at Lake Bradford Estates, too. She applauded the strength of residents facing hard times at the mobile home park, and she offered her office as a resource.
“I just apologize on behalf of the city and the state that we haven’t created the conditions where this won’t happen, and I hope that we can get to a place where this kind of thing never happens again,” she said.
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