‘Affordable’ housing issue is far from solved

The following editorial was published in The Daily Sun on May 18, 2023.

OUR POSITION: Despite a bill passed by the Legislature to boost affordable housing, the challenges to do so remain.

There is ample talk when it comes to the housing crunch here in Florida and nationally.

However, we worry about whether all that talk about the need for more “affordable” and “workforce” housing turns into needed actions when the proverbial rubber meets the road.

The appetite for more affordable housing and homes and apartments for workers unfortunately decreases when those efforts run up against well-healed opposition — or developers protecting their bottom line.

We worry those not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) sentiments are still very pronounced where more housing is most needed. We get that some apartment developments create concerns with neighbors about traffic, property values and current land uses.

Sometimes those concerns are legitimate and developers and planners need to balance the number of units to make a project financially viable with its impacts on the surrounding community.

Other times, those community concerns are well-worn strategies to keep apartments and their tenants out of certain neighborhoods. Often, it’s the wealthier zip codes where residents have resources and political influence where it is hardest to get any new housing built especially for middle income and lower-income residents.

Similar obstacles are playing out in Englewood where neighbors are upset over a proposed 300-unit apartments project along North Indiana Avenue and Arlington Cove. Sarasota County canceled a meeting earlier this month saying the 300 concerned neighbors who showed up to oppose the development overwhelmed the meeting venue, causing safety concerns with the fire marshal.

‘Democracy in action’ will have to wait until a June 8 hearing — unless a later date is decided upon.

We’ve also seen many local governments approve expensive, ‘market-rate’ apartment complexes pushed by well-healed developers with a limited focus (at best) on housing for lower-paid workers.

Again, money talks. The result is plenty of “luxury” apartments with rents of $2,000 per month or more and a shortage of new housing for teachers, public safety and many health care workers, let alone those working in entry level and lower-paying service jobs in tourism, food service and hospitality.

That latter group is important to Florida’s tourism sector and other industries. At some point, we have to realize those folks (those neighbors) need affordable places to live.

But for too many of us, affordable and workforce housing is still something to support until it is in our backyard.

Developers are also part of the housing problem — and its solutions.

Real estate interests successfully pushed legislation in Tallahassee to curtail local rent control pushes.

The Live Local Act passed by the state Legislature restricts localities from imposing limitations and controls on rent increases. Some of those recent increases have been substantial, sending tenants scrambling for housing.

Rent controls can have unintended consequences and discourage new construction. But they are one of the few answers to big increases in rents charged by landlords and can discourage excessive rent increases.

We worry the state ban on local rent controls will embolden landlords already soaking tenants with higher rents. Florida is not always the best at consumer protections — just ask anyone with homeowners insurance.

The state housing bill allows developers to fast track housing developments if 40% or more of the units are in the “affordable” category. That can potentially add needed units and competition in real estate markets, but how developers navigate and potentially massage the definition of “affordable” will be the key.

Florida has a housing crisis. Too many of our neighbors and coworkers are struggling to find decent affordable housing.

We all know that. It just comes down to how we solve the problem and whether we have the political and community will to find those solutions