The following editorial was published in The Daily Sun on Dec 8, 2023.

OUR POSITION: Local governments are doing what they can to boost the number of much-needed affordable housing units, but the challenge is immense.

During a not-so-long-ago Sarasota County Commission gathering, commissioners went over the key pieces of action needed to fire up the affordable housing construction effort.

Their report card was pretty good. The results, not so much.

Every county that receives State Housing Initiatives Partnership Program funds must report to the state how that money is used. The report includes a review of affordable housing projects and the creation of inventory of public-owned land suitable for affordable housing — which means housing that costs no more than 20% of a household income.

The county’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, and its chair Jon Thaxton, reported that all the steps suggested for SHIP eligibility were met. And, the county’s seven steps to get more affordable housing were good ideas.

Charlotte County Charlotte County Human Services Director Carrie Walsh said her county commissioners were on board with most of those seven steps and were eager to develop more affordable housing.

Let’s take a look at those seven recommended steps:

1. Create an affordable-housing trust fund, potentially funded by a percentage of property tax increases each year. Sarasota plans to do that and Charlotte County already has such a fund that currently holds $2 million to be used for developer incentives or to buy land.

2. Review studies regarding compatibility issues in the creation of affordable housing. NIMBY — “not in my backyard” — has been an impediment, Thaxton told his commissioners.

3. Include a consideration of affordable housing in land-use policy decisions. Charlotte County does this.

4. Adopt a program of inclusionary zoning to mandate an affordable-housing component in new development. This is a sticky situation as the new state statute says the county, or city, has to make the developer “whole.” Walsh explained that Charlotte County has a program called Charlotte Homes where the developer can get incentives such as no impact fees to help be “whole” but county commissioners have to make the decisions and the state guidelines are complicated as to what makes a developer “whole.”

Thaxton, agreed by calling this proposal the committee’s most controversial recommendation. To comply with state law, it should only be implemented where a developer is seeking an increase in density or intensity of use, he said.

5. Create zoning where an increase in density would be allowed by right if a developer voluntarily includes an affordable-housing component. Charlotte tries to do this through the previous mentioned Charlotte Homes program.

6. Allow affordable housing by right in the rezoning of commercial properties where 15% would be designated affordable.

7. Allocate $20 million in surtax revenue for the purchase of land for affordable housing. Charlotte County has money in the pipeline because of Hurricane Ian that can be used for affordable housing but it has not been designated yet.

The biggest problem with obtaining more affordable housing is simple — and has no real solution.

Florida, especially fast-growing counties like Charlotte and Sarasota, is getting farther behind the affordable housing supply/demand curve despite efforts to do better.

“We’re literally producing supply of affordable housing by the hundreds and we’re increasing the demand by thousands,” Thaxton said in The Daily Sun story. “If you have 10,000 people earning $30,000 per year, you need 10,000 homes that can be afforded on that $30,000-per-year income.”

Rapid growth presents a problem that may be too great to overcome without drastic measures. Otherwise, the newcomers may find those middle-income people who provide services they need won’t be able to afford to live here.

It’s that simple.