A novel proposal to adequately address Jacksonville’s homelessness epidemic via “Tiny Houses” has been summarily rejected by Jacksonville’s mayor and city council. Last summer I was invited to a meeting by a city councilman who has expressed concern for the homeless. Officials from the finance department and the mayor’s office were invited to listen. Someone asked what I thought the city’s responsibility should be with respect to providing housing for the homeless. In light of the city’s habitual and fiscally irresponsible practice of giving out grants and forgivable loans to wealthy business owners who don’t need assistance, I thought that person had quite a bit of nerve to ask such a question. That very question indicates the kind of merciless hypocrisy that exists as a chronic mindset of far too many people in government and society. Meaning, it never dawned on this person to inquire what the city’s responsibility should be with regard to giving away taxpayer subsidized corporate welfare to the rich, to get even richer.
Here’s the answer to that woefully misguided question. In a pure capitalistic society, the government should not be in the business of providing housing for anyone, period. Likewise, this exact same principle should be absolutely no different with respect to funding private businesses under the guise of giving “financial incentives” to the wealthy to help stimulate the economy. America is not a pure capitalistic society, yet we mindlessly continue to make that false claim. Unfortunately, we are both politically and economically schizophrenic and therefore gravely hypocritical in the ways we operate our local, state and national governments. When rich business owners want to get even richer without risking their wealth, they elect political puppets to rename welfare “financial incentives” and create socialistic-type economic policies and bureaus like the Downtown Investment Authority, (DIA), to doll out tax-dollars to themselves. Such entities allow the wealthy and politically connected to pay lip service to a free-market capitalistic society while simultaneously bleeding the system for taxpayer-funded welfare which is masked socialism. Conversely, God forbid if the middle-class, poor, needy or homeless request taxpayer-funded assistance for a basic humanitarian need like housing. Fiscal amnesia sets in as if no corporate welfare program exists to help the rich get richer! All of a sudden, the hypocritical question becomes "what role should the government play in providing a very basic human need like permanent housing?"
To prove corporate welfare is a reality, we conducted electronic research and made several public records requests for DIA records. The sums of grants and forgivable loans being routinely given to the wealthy, in assembly-line fashion, is absolutely astounding. These exorbitant sums are morally offensive and holistically unconscionable in comparison to the woeful lack of funding to address our progressive homelessness “epidemic.” Worse yet, DIA votes are most often unanimous, almost as if there’s a stigma attached to anyone who dares to “abstain” or, God forbid, vote “against” approving any proposal. Could this mean there is an unwritten, but well understood, "understanding" to approve just about every proposal from the wealthy and politically powerful that's presented to the DIA? Could this be the reason DIA has devolved into a veritable rubber-stamping machine for whatever sum of taxpayer money rich business owners deem “necessary” to reduce their risk of loss? In one exceptionally egregious case, DIA staff determined the business owner could afford to fund the project without any taxpayer-funded assistance. Despite a recommendation that it be rejected, the board approved it anyway! This is the kind of disdain city leaders have for our tax-dollars. However, the problem lies with the voters because we seldom if ever hold elected officials accountable by removing them from office for such malfeasance.
Here are just a few examples of what our independent research discovered as to the kinds of corporate welfare being routinely being approved, distributed and/or pending approval with the DIA.
DIA Resolutions for Monies that Have Been Approved 1. Resolution 2021-03-01 Laura Street Trio $24,674,300 2. Resolution 2021-05-04 East Union Holdings $8,285,794 3. Resolution 2021-07-04 Vestcor $1,025,0004. Resolution 2021-07-08 Cathedral District $10,000 (Christmas Party)5. Resolution 2021-08-01 Fuqua Development $31,594,1406. Resolution 2021-08-12 Thomas Porter House $669,581 7. Resolution 2021-11-02 Central National Bank $5,814,697 Total: $72,073,512
Additional Awards in 2021 as Reported in the Jacksonville News & Daily Record
1. Home 2 Suites $2,400,0002. One Riverside (Redevelopment of Old TU Bldg.) $31,590,0003. Shipyards Project – Four Seasons Hotel $114,000,0004. Vestcor Lofts at Cathedral $610,0005. Design Contract for Artwork/Sculpture $1,700,0006. Boeing Airlines - Hangar at Cecil Commerce $425,0007. Jacksonville Jaguars - Practice Facility & Offices $60,000,000 (a $120M project)8. Related Group (Miami) $18,270,000 Total: $228,995,000
Grand total approved sum: $301,068,512
Pending Requests for Financial Incentives/Welfare Southeast Development Group's 2.0B plan $536,000,000 (+1/2 billion requested)
Total sums approved and/or pending review: $837,068,512 All DIA resolutions for years 2016 to present are available to the public on the DIA website.
A measly 5% of what has already been approved ($301,068,512 with hardly any questions asked) would yield $15,053,425.60. At the rate of approximately $2,500.00 to $3,500.00 per Tiny House, this sum would roughly yield between 4,000 and 6,000 units for the homeless, subject to land acquisition and other necessary expenses. This would be more than enough to house Jacksonville’s homeless population. According to Changing Homeless, the 2021 Point in Time count of homeless people was 1,222. Unfortunately, while tax-payer monies are being lavishly bestowed upon the rich who don’t need it, the homeless are sleeping outside in the cold and pregnant women are giving birth on sidewalks in what’s call the Consolidated City of Jacksonville, Duval County, Florida, f/n/a “The Bold New City of the South!”
There needs to be an immediate cessation of work at the DIA, followed by an independent study of the long-term impact these monthly million-dollar grants and forgivable loans will have on the financial wellbeing of Jacksonville over the next 20 to 30 years. Unless these kinds of giveaways are curtailed, we are headed for some very rough financial times that could very well bankrupt the so-called Consolidated City of Jacksonville.
Our next installment will cover the executives of multi-million-dollar companies who are ignoring formal requests to voluntarily “give back” a small percentage of their taxpayer funded corporate welfare to build Tiny Houses for the homeless. Thus far, only one CEO has responded and met with us to discuss our homelessness problem and how to rectify it. Not only did he meet with us, on his own volition, he also directed his staff to purchase a substantial sum of grocery gift cards to feed our hungry and homeless friends downtown. Finally and most importantly, this same person, Jaguars CEO Mark Lamping, has publicly expressed Jacksonville Jaguars' support for city officials creating public policy, a new law if you will, to set aside a certain percentage of funds from grants forgivable loans to humanely provide permanent housing for the homeless. Despite this fact, none of our elected or appointed officials have the courage ACT! Accordingly, we are actively collecting petitions to put this matter before the Duval County voters to decide whether or not to adopt what we call "The Robinhood Law."
A.W. “Al” Barlow, Esquire/Pastor /ChairmanHousing for the Homeless CampaignEmail: HousesForTheHomeless@Gmail.Com625 W. Union Street, Suite 1Jacksonville, FL 32202
Isaiah Rumlin, PresidentJacksonville Branch, NAACPEmail: RumlinI@RumlinInsurance.Com5600 New Kings Road, Suite 4Jacksonville, FL 32209 Links to other related news pertaining to our homeless epidemic. Guest column: Charter Amendment to Solve Homelessness 'Epidemic' - April 16, 2022 Guest column: Solving Jacksonville's Homelessness 'Epidemic' - October 17, 2021