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Officials brainstorm ways to increase housing inventory and reduce costs • Florida Phoenix

With Florida's affordable housing situation still at crisis levels, local officials, state lawmakers, researchers and other groups are looking for new ideas, from changing zoning to lowering minimum lot sizes for developers.

The brainstorming took place during a daylong discussion held this week at the University of South Florida campus in St. Petersburg. It was hosted by the Florida Policy Project, a think tank founded by former Republican Senator Jeff Brandes.

Brandes himself has major issues with the Live Local Act – a law passed last year to improve housing options in Florida. He said it's a “one-size-fits-all policy” that treats the state's largest and smallest counties equally – it focuses largely on apartment developers and doesn't provide enough incentives for single-family home developers.

He believes there need to be further changes to zoning, particularly allowing construction of so-called accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and lowering minimum lot sizes for developers.

“And none of that is really provided for in Live Local 1 or Live Local II,” he said, referring to the measure passed this year that attempts to address some of the concerns of the original legislation.

The in-law units

ADUs are also better known as secondary units, backyard cottages and in-laws units, and their numbers have been increasing in California over the past eight years.

“By the late 2010s, there was a growing consensus that something had to happen,” said M. Nolan Gray, the research director for California YIMBY (Yes in My Backyard), which advocates for affordable housing.

“The status quo was completely untenable. ADUs were just so harmless. ADUs just check every box… I think part of what happened is that the “no” forces have been saying “no” to every possible reform for a long time, but when we got to the ADUs , there was this feeling of “coming.” on', that's really the minimum we could do, so we're not going to give in to the politics of saying no to everything. We're going to do something.'”

But Edward J. Pinto, senior fellow and director of the American Enterprise Institute's Housing Center, said the push for ADUs in California actually began in the 1980s. “It was a battle between the legislature and the communities. And then the devil finally collapsed in 2016/2017, but that was 30 years after it started.”

Lesley Deutch, principal of John Burns Real Estate Consulting in South Florida, said that while she liked the “idea” of ADUs, it would allow more vacation rental properties to be built than single-family homes. And she said another obstacle is the number of homeowners associations (HOAs) in Florida.

“A lot of them don’t allow additional construction,” she said. “Not only are you dealing with the state and the local community, but you're also dealing with your local HOA, and to me that's a big headache and a tough hurdle to overcome.”

Live on site

Later in the day, the discussion turned to how Live Local plays in certain areas of the state.

One point of contention has been the so-called “missing middle” property tax exemption, which encourages more affordable housing units in new or recently constructed developments. The law provides a 75 percent property tax abatement if at least 70 housing units are affordable to people earning up to 80 percent of the area median income (AMI), up to 120 percent – ​​a much higher income level than traditional affordable housing projects .

Pasco County has been one of the most vocal governments in Florida to publicly criticize elements of this law.

Meanwhile, a provision in the 2024 legislation updating the Live Local law allows “certain taxing authorities” to deny granting a 75 percent property tax break for housing priced for families making 80 to 120 percent of the area median income earn . Pasco County commissioners are expected to discuss the possibility of deviating from that provision later this month.

Reason Foundation's Adrian Moore (left), Manatee County Commissioner George Lindsay and Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano at the Florida Policy Project's 2024 Florida Housing Summit at USF-St. Petersburg campus on May 1, 2024 (Photo credit: Mitch Perry)

Pasco Commissioner Jack Mariano said during this week's discussion that the opt-out provision would ease the burden on the county. “But what about the whole thing? I wish they could go and watch the whole thing again,” he said.

Manatee County Commissioner George Kruse noted that the 120% Area Medium Income (AMI) provisions in the law “took some of the punch” from the Live Local Act and said it wasn't necessary, people to provide incentives at this relatively high level of income. According to Manatee County's May 2023 income guidelines, 120% of AMI in Manatee was $76,800 for an individual and $109,680 for a family of four.

“Honestly, the missing middle is great, but fortunately AMIs have gone up faster than my rents, and that's partly due to supply and partly because of the economy, and that's what you should want,” Kruse said. “It has progressed to the point where the 120% is no longer a real missing middle. The 60-80% is now more of a missing middle. People with 120% can just go out and get an apartment.”

Speed ​​up building permits

Another bill (SB 812) to promote housing construction is sponsored by GOP State Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, a home builder and developer. He represents Citrus, Hernando, Sumter counties and part of Pasco County. The measure allows cities with a population of 10,000 or more and counties with a population of 75,000 or more to expedite the process of issuing building permits for housing developments or planned communities.

“One of the reasons we have an affordable housing crisis in this state is because everyone wants to move here,” he said. “The other part is that we’re seeing local governments artificially restrict supply through over-regulation.”

Ingoglia participated in a panel discussion with Jeremy Susac, vice president of government affairs for Lennar Corporation, one of the largest homebuilders in the country. Ingoglia, a former chairman of the Florida Republican Party, said that as a homebuilder and legislator he gets frustrated when he hears local governments discuss affordable housing.

“To me, they’re talking out of both sides of their mouth,” he said. “They say we need affordable housing, but guess what? We will impose all these mandates on you. We're going to limit what you can build. We're going to restrict supplies, we're going to take up your permits forever, and where do you think it's all going to go? It’s passed on to the end user.”

Ingoglia added that the state's housing shortage will only ease as more homes are built, which he said would be compounded by the local government opting out of the single-family home permitting process “once and for all.”

“The only way to keep property prices stable in the long and short term is to ensure there is enough supply and demand to meet. If you don't, you are part of the problem. This law will help with that. This will allow more homes to come onto the market.”

Anna Harden

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