In late May, BankUnited and Florida Housing Finance Corporation closed loans to Rural Neighborhoods for its newest rental community in Immokalee, FL. Nearly $6M was raised to build 96 SRO beds targeting low-income, H-2a visa worker and agricultural labor housing. Rural continues to serve as a national leader in housing models serving farmworkers and Casa Amigos is a continuation of its shared housing model rolled out in other locales including Ruskin and Florida City. “Florida Housing Finance Corporation has more than 20 years innovation and leadership in serving our state’s farmworkers,” Steven Kirk remarked. “It’s a two-way partnership, and for all that time, each of us have sought ways to adapt to the need and the changing character of the workforce. BankUnited joins in that effort as it seeks ways to better serve its Collier Market.”
Rural Neighborhoods’ President, Steven Kirk, testified before Congress in March 2021 before the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations at its Creating Equitable Communities through Transportation and Housing hearing. In answering the question as to how communities best apply a racial equity lens toward equitable development, he answered “no one knows the needs of a neighborhood better than the persons experiencing the struggle.” He noted “our housing and community development work is driven by people of color” citing RN’s diverse board comprised of 40% LatinX, 20% Black and 40% women membership and 90% minority staff. He cautioned elected officials against a rush towards newly formed entities to accelerate equitable housing. Instead, he encouraged proven housing groups to embrace greater racial diversity and to encourage mergers between organizations to blend organization diversity and scale.
Rural Neighborhoods’ new 62-unit Deer Creek senior housing complex in Gainesville broke ground in the 1st Quarter! In partnership with local nonprofit Neighborhood Housing and Development Corporation, Rural is building the $16 million rental community using 9% LIHTC from Alliant Capital and JP Morgan Chase together with debt from CDFI Community Housing Capital as sources of permanent and construction financing.
The development fills a critical gap for seniors ages 62 and older on fixed incomes and is located immediately adjacent to the Alachua County Senior Service Center and Northside Park. Scheduled for completion in April 2022, the building brings solar energy and resilient design and preserves and restores nearby wetlands.
Residents at Rural Neighborhoods’ Everglades Village in Homestead and Miami-Dade Police Department officers were busy dressing up the entrance to the 511-unit rental community with new plants and signage recently. Director of Property Management, Michael Botelho, remarked “by the end of the day all agreed we planted as much trust in each other as the numbers of trees and shrubs. It was great to begin to bridge the sometimes real, sometimes imagined gaps between new immigrants and patrol officers.” A total of 25 residents, staff and county officers took part in the project resulting in new entry signage, added shrubs and mulch, and newly painted entrance fencing.
Local government is expected to donate 25 acres of land valued at $7M. Even more important is a new innovative financial model in which key foundations contribute $10M in equity to the planned rental community led by the Richard Schulz Family Foundation, Community Foundation of Collier County and Moorings Park Foundation. Neighborhood Revitalization Manager Dottie Cook said, “It is unprecedented to see this much philanthropic support, support that leveraged local government to offer land and will leverage even greater support from others in the future.”
The Florida Keys Community Land Trust, a land trust founded on Big Pine Key in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, became a corporate affiliate of Rural Neighborhoods in recent weeks bringing 4 nationally-recognized cottages to our growing portfolio of 1,796 unit rentals. But it means much more than numbers! This partnership merges FKCLT Founder Maggie Whitcomb’s unprecedented leadership, advocacy and post-storm success to RN’s accomplishments – much of which arose out of the Hurricane Andrew disaster in 1992. Together, our groups hope to spur an affordable housing movement throughout Monroe County. Steven Kirk, President of RN, celebrated the collaboration: “Our approach is finding local partners who truly understand the need in their communities, support their strengths and together, achieve a scale offering greater impact than can be achieved alone. The land trust offers us a proven track record, land banked to build on, and a new tool for our toolbox so we can better achieve affordability.”
Bank United joins Rural Neighborhoods in support of Casa Amigos through its sponsorship of a $500,000 Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta Affordable Housing Program loan that was recently awarded to RN and its commitment of $325,000 in project bridge financing.
Tax credit investor Alliant Capital has pledged $11.6M in equity toward Deer Creek Senior Housing in Gainesville. Thanks as we celebrate Alliant’s third investment in RN properties – a partnership beginning nearly 15 years ago.
RN will begin construction on both projects in 2021.
Earlier in the year, members of Rural Neighborhood’s sewing group happily agreed to help their community when asked to sew face masks for farmworkers and their families in Immokalee. The group, which started approximately four years ago, meets weekly to learn sewing. Lusvi Perez is the volunteer instructor and enjoys helping members learn a skill they can use to supplement their family’s income.
With support and donated materials from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), members of RN’s sewing group made several thousand masks. Each sews at their own home to practice social distancing, but looks forward to returning to class once the virus eases.
RN is helping its residents in other ways. Its Homestead campus periodically serves as a COVID test site for residents and surrounding neighbors. RN also received a $60,000 grant from Collier County under the CARES Act. The funds will be used to create PPE kits for residents and purchase sanitization equipment for RN’s Immokalee properties to sanitize common areas as well as apartments at turnover.
Longtime Rural Neighborhoods volunteer, Antonia Rios’, recently spoke about her immigrant experience with PBS station WUFT. Rios’ Eden Park home in Immokalee was damaged by Hurricane Irma in 2017 and was among the more than 70 owner-occupied dwellings rehabbed by Rural Neighborhoods with financial assistance from the Community Foundation of Collier County and American Red Cross. We hope this in-depth article and the video below help readers better understand the struggles new citizens endure to build better lives for themselves and their children.
It seems it was just months ago RN was awarded funds to construct seventeen rental homes on Big Pine Key – Florida’s Ground Zero for the 2017 Hurricane Irma landfall in 2017. That disaster recovery effort is growing larger. Florida Housing Finance Corporation and CenterState Bank pledged $3.3M to construct nine units at Seahorse Cottages II and $1.8M to build five scattered site rental homes called The Avenues. This follows our May 2019 $7.5M acquisition of Tradewinds Hammocks in Key Largo.