Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Bill Lazar Makes a Difference on Affordable Housing (SAR)

Posted December 27, 2016 12:01 am - Updated December 27, 2016 07:39 am
By Anne Heymen
St. Augustine Record correspondent
10 WHO MAKE A DIFFERENCE BILL LAZAR: Leading those in need on a path to affordable housing

Bill Lazar is in awe of the history of his adopted hometown, St. Augustine.

More specifically, it’s the buildings of the Oldest City that most often grab his attention, but that’s only natural since he serves St. Johns County as executive director of the St. Johns Housing Partnership.

What is kind of crazy is that although Lazar has been involved in the housing field for many years, the 60-year-old, a graduate of the University of Florida, majored in philosophy at the Gainesville school.

“I love St. Augustine,” Lazar said recently, seated in one of the offices of the housing partnership facility at 525 W. King St.

Lazar describes both himself and his wife, Deborah Karably, as military brats, and as such, they each lived in many locations while growing up. St. Augustine, he says, offers both “a sense of community.”

Even though St. Augustine and St. Johns County continue to grow, Lazar said there’s still that sense of a small community. And, since he’s involved in construction and housing, he’s also fascinated by structures which have been part of St. Augustine for hundreds of years, like the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument.

It’s “just our history,” he says of St. Augustine, walking through downtown and just the fact that somebody built something hundreds of years ago and it’s still here.

Equally fascinating to him is the fact that the housing partnership headquarters once was known as The Sunnyside House, which, according to a framed item on the walls of the office, identifies the structure as “the last surviving section of one of St. Augustine’s famous hotels, pre-dating the era of Henry Flagler.”

The structure was eventually moved from downtown St. Augustine to West Augustine after 1885, and its last owners were Moses Demps Sr. and his family. The St. Johns Housing Partnership purchased the property in 2001 and completed a major renovation of the house. Today, the facility houses a staff of 18.


A brochure from the St. Johns Housing Partnership describes it as “the affordable housing and energy efficiency experts with a mission. We help people fix their homes, buy their homes, rent their homes and keep their homes.”

Lazar credits Judy Foxworth, first SHIP administrator, with luring him to St. Johns County.

“We met at one of those housing conferences or something,” Lazar explained, and Foxworth talked Lazar into bidding on the SHIP rehab contract doing the same work in St. Johns County he was doing in Duval. No one was doing what Lazar would be doing in St. Johns County, Lazar recalls Foxworth telling him, “and there is a huge need.”

“I loved what I was doing in Jacksonville,” Lazar continues, but a move seemed like a good idea since his wife had already started working for the St. Johns County Mental Health Association. Born in New York City, Lazar grew up in Atlantic Beach, so he was quite familiar with St. Johns County.

His family includes sons Joseph Karably-Smith, who now lives in Jacksonville and is father to a four-year-old daughter; and Sawyer Karably-Lazar, who graduated from Santa Fe Community College, Gainesville, Dec. 9.

The job here was “great for him,” says Robert Marshall, owner of World Island Builders, and a longtime friend and associate of Lazar’s. Marshall describes Lazar as having “that not-for-profit personality,” and he also has “the need to help people.” The job here has been “great for him.”

It’s always tough, Marshall observes, when an individual goes out on his own, and “it’s another thing when it’s nonprofit.” Lazar never took time to look back and reflect on what he’s done. “He was busy keeping up.”

“He’s doing great work,” added Becky Stringer, who retired several years ago as executive director of Catholic Charities and now volunteers at the housing partnership. The partnership not only repairs homes, but they do weatherization, affordable housing, Stringer continued. She’s impressed with how Lazar “works, how he helps people.”

Lazar’s community involvement includes serving on the board of the St. Johns County Builders Council and a member for 14 years; on the advisory board at the Pedro Menendez High School Construction Academy, on the advisory board of First Coast Technical College and a business partner with Murray Middle School and Webster Elementary School.

Statewide, he serves with the Florida Green Building Coalition and Florida Weatherization Network; nationally, he’s involved with the Green Builders Coalition.

As to the future, Lazar wants to preserve what tradesmen of the past and present are doing.

“We need to pass on the knowledge,” he emphasized. “You can view what craftsmen built hundreds of years ago, and it’s still here. There is a need for young people to learn from the older ones.

“We’re losing their knowledge.”

No comments: