City leaders tour affordable housing developments in Tallahassee

Published: Feb. 23, 2017 at 7:24 PM EST
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By: Mariel Carbone

February 23, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV)—Tallahassee leaders had an opportunity to tour two “out of the box” affordable housing developments in the Capital City, Thursday.

Those include The Dwellings and Westgate Community; both are projects by businessman Rick Kearney, who also funded the Kearney Center, the city’s homeless shelter.

Westgate opened about two years ago and is located off of Blountstown Street between Tharpe and Tennessee streets. It currently has two out of the three styles of living offered, operating.

Right now, residents can live in a boarding house styled space, which sleeps two to three people per room. Those rooms include a bathroom; the house shares an open kitchen and living room. Currently, there are five houses like this operating. All are filled to capacity, serving about 120 people.

Residents pay anywhere from $5 to $12.50 a day, depending on their situation. This includes all utilities. They can also pay an additional $50 a month for a meal plan which includes three meals a day.

Another option, is the bunk house. Which is an open space set up with bunk beds, plus a common kitchen and bathroom space.

Single room occupancy spaces are currently being developed, where each room will be designed for one person. Residents will share a bathroom and living area, with the exception of handicap accessible rooms, which will have their own bathroom.

Kearney described the community as a “sanctuary site.” Residents are not living there based on leases, but rather behavior. If they are disruptive, they’ll be asked to leave. Several of the people living there are also given jobs inside the community, including maintenance work, to give them purpose.

Kearney’s other project is deemed The Dwellings. That’s located off of Blountstown Highway past Capital Circle NW. It’s still in the building stages, but once complete it will be a community of tiny houses. The cottages will be between 200 and 400 square feet, with the renting rate of about $700 per month. That includes utilities.

The main goal, again, is affordable housing.

"We have to lower the price point in housing and demonstrate it to the rest of the community and in my opinion the rest of the country,” said Kearney.

There will be no specific requirements for residents; instead, Kearney describing it as “people who need help.” Once completed the community will include a small store, a coffee shop, a water tower, a community center, space for arts and crafts and more.

Kearney describes it as a “living laboratory on sustainable communities.”

City leaders said they are impressed with the progress so far.

“They're really neat, they're super nice and people that have nice things try to keep it up," said Commissioner Scott Maddox.

"I have always felt that we needed something like this that was much more affordable to an array of people in the community,” said Commissioner Nancy Miller.

The Dwellings has been a controversial development in town, with residents in neighboring communities fearing that there would be similar results as to what happened in the areas surrounding the Kearney Center. Those include littering and loitering.

"I just want it to be peaceful, I don't want it to be loud, I don't want it to be a ruckus, and I don't want thefts to increase,” said Dominique Tillotson, who lives just beyond the development.

Others, not showing as much concern.

"I think it's a cool idea as long as it doesn't bring any more crime to the area,” said Taylor Amiss, who also lives nearby.

Still, Kearney said the project is the way of the future.

"This is going to be a project that is going to lead the way for the country," said Kearney. "Other communities are starving for this concept and waiting for government or waiting for HUD to come in and figure out how to do this is not going to work. The private sector, entrepreneurial. This pays for itself, there's no subsidies here, this is a private sector initiative."

Construction on the community is expected to begin in March.