SEBRING — Highlands County Government is working on a request to donate some of its surplus land to build affordable housing.

Community Programs Director Leah Sauls has put in the request with County Attorney Joy Carmichael to review any legalities associated with it. Carmichael told the Board of County Commission on March 5 that the county is allowed, under Florida law, to donate surplus property for use as affordable housing.

It’s been done in the past, said Commission Chair Jim Brooks, with gifts to such entities as Habitat for Humanity. Mason’s Ridge, Habitat’s neighborhood of client homes in Sebring off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, was one such donation.

Assistant County Administrator Tasha Morgan said Thursday the donation request pertains to Hope Haven, a non-profit homeless/housing transition organization headed by Leslie Behm and operating out of the old Safari Inn on U.S. 27.

Currently, Hope Haven provides rental housing for employed individuals or couples, including families, in all of the old motel’s 26 rooms. There are no vacancies.

At a recent round table discussion of stakeholders in the homelessness situation, Behm told of her plans to find land to construct a community of “tiny houses” for more permanent affordable rental housing for people who have successfully transitioned from homelessness.

She has no comment on the proposed donation. There has been no presentation made to the Board of County Commission, all of whom participated in the round table discussion and who would have to approve the donation at a noticed meeting.

Morgan talks about the property as in the “very early stages of discussion.”

There are two parcels under consideration right now, Morgan said: 1234 E.O. Douglas Ave. and 1308 E.O. Douglas Ave.

They’re on the north side of the road, sitting across from each other on either side of Valencia Street.

Morgan also said the properties came into county possession because of unpaid taxes. Currently, the county has no use for them.

If the County Commission approves of the donation, Hope Haven would still need to have the land rezoned and the land use adjusted by the Planning and Zoning Commission/Board of Adjustment, since regulations on tiny homes don’t exist in the county land development regulations.

Currently, the code doesn’t allow houses below a certain size, and tiny homes would need a special exception.

At the round table discussion, Behm said she hopes to build 30 homes to start for single or couples without children, then follow up with slightly larger homes for families.

Ultimately, she hopes the community might contain 100 such homes.

Again, the first step is to get the land. Those discussions are not complete, yet.


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