Congressman Michael Waltz studies affordable housing in Daytona Beach
DAYTONA BEACH – Deep in the recesses of the Palmetto House’s unfinished basement are shelves of shirts, pants and jackets, given to residents who often come with little more than clothes on their backs.
“Be careful,” Lindsay Medders advised Wednesday as she led a tour of Volusia County’s largest temporary housing center for single adults in downtown Daytona Beach. The basement ceiling was about five and a half feet high, reminiscent of when it was originally built in the 1890s.
Inside, Congressman Michael Waltz questioned the ingenuity of Medders and staff at Mid-Florida Housing Partnership, Inc., a non-profit affordable housing organization. Waltz visited Palmetto House to take a closer look at what affordable housing looks like in Volusia County and to help him understand the needs of the community.
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On the second floor of the house, Waltz entered an unoccupied room, one of 48 rooms for some 77 residents – all single adults working to improve their lives, either by recovering from an addiction, by recovering from the domestic violence or simply trying to avoid homelessness.
In the right place after “bad guy”
Medders, a 32-year-old single mother, knows it. She is not only the deputy director of the program for the Palmetto House, but also a graduate of the program, an achievement that relates to residents as peers.
She looks straight back at the last five years. Born and raised in New Smyrna Beach, Medders said she had a bad relationship with “the wrong guy.”
She first broke the law and started using drugs at the age of 27.
One day, she was raped, beaten and left for dead by the side of the road.
“A policeman found me. Let me stay at his home for three days,” she said. “I showered. I was able to walk again. I was not in pain. And I came here.”
There, she says she found “a helping hand, not a gift”, and it was just the push she needed to change her life. Now she is able to help others who are where she was.
It is inspired by the spirit of the place. With 77 different residents, many have jobs and are able to connect others, she said.
Come with me, they say to each other. “I have a job for you. Do you do a bulldozer? Do you like doing the dishes? Come and work in the restaurant where I work.”
Medders said residents are helping each other. Those who have cars offer rides to others.
“Ground Zero” for affordable housing
The bedroom Medders showed Waltz is simple: single twin beds wrapped in plastic, with a wooden chest of drawers and a bedside table.
“It reminds me of VMI,” said Waltz, recalling his days at the Virginia Military Institute, the college he attended.
Ernie Audino, Waltz District Director and retired U.S. Army Brigadier General, compared it to the barracks he saw.
Much like dorms or barracks, Palmetto House fills a critical need in the Daytona Beach area. The problem: it’s the only one.
“If somehow we could replicate that,” said Victor Ramos, executive director of Mid-Florida Housing Partnership.
It’s a place of opportunity, always a bipartisan issue.
Waltz, on vacation from Congress, spends part of his week in his district learning about the needs of the people he serves. “For me, it’s always about getting an appreciation. It’s about hearing from people like Lindsay and Victor and others at Palmetto House. They’re at Ground Zero for this issue.”
Nanette Long, chair of the board of directors of Mid-Florida, said the nonprofit offers a range of housing in different forms to serve its customers and does more than provide housing. It offers credit counseling and education.
“We could use land to start developing our own home, working with a home builder and some specific families,” Long said. “Above all, there is a very great need for single mothers with children who fall through the cracks. Here we have a very high profile homeless person who is getting a lot of attention, a lot of media attention, but the single mother is a silent majority in great, great need. “
After the tour, Waltz said he supports the CARES law and the latest omnibus spending bill with rent assistance, but he says moving people to affordable housing takes more than government assistance.
“My main takeaway today is what ecosystem it needs to be to be successful,” he said. “It’s not just about providing temporary shelter in a house. It’s the educational aspect. It’s how to get them back on their feet in terms of the workforce? Get their credit, so they can eventually have their own home. Help with addiction issues. “
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