Housing is typically residents’ largest expenditure and, for many, the cost is growing out of control. Whether someone owns or rents, it is an ever-increasing challenge for most South Floridians to afford even modest housing that is accessible to employment, good schools, shopping, entertainment, recreation and community services.
Political leaders, advocacy groups and the media have, with virtual unanimity, pushed for more and better affordable housing for our citizens. This has led to productive policies and the successful development of affordable housing in Florida. But the sad reality is that while our housing inventory has grown, it lags well behind demand, and there remain significant economic, regulatory and political obstacles to building more and doing so expeditiously.
In Pinnacle Housing Group’s 21-year existence, we have constructed more than 7,000 affordable housing units in Florida. We have demonstrated that affordable housing can be successfully and attractively built in good neighborhoods, as well as near transportation, jobs and schools. All of Pinnacle’s communities include public art to enhance their beauty and that of the surrounding neighborhood. One of Pinnacle’s most exciting innovations was implemented in West Brickell, where the Brickell View Terrace community includes, in a single development, luxury market-rate units and commercial retail space together with affordable rental homes .
But there is much to be done to expand the availability of quality, affordable housing for all who need it. The following suggestions can be accomplished in the near term if the public and private sector work together:
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· Each year the state of Florida collects hundreds of millions of dollars in documentary surtax assessments that are to be placed in an affordable housing trust fund. The annual practice of diverting these resources for uses other than affordable housing should end.
· County and municipal ordinances should be further modified and streamlined to incentivize affordable housing investment. Such innovations could include flexible zoning to allow for a variety of mixed-uses that include affordable housing, parking and setback requirement reductions where appropriate. Further, special overlay districts and “form-based zoning” would facilitate the development of affordable housing in an economically sustainable way.
· Requirements that promote expedited permitting, zoning and regulatory processes are complied with only sporadically. Accelerating the regulatory process is critical to timely delivering affordable housing and it can be easily achieved.
· Local governments with extensive holdings of undeveloped land suitable for affordable housing should identify and release such land. More counties and municipalities should take advantage of recent state legislation promoting “P3”, a public/private partnership to develop publicly owned land. The city of Hollywood is joining with Pinnacle in a P3 venture to provide affordable housing for seniors.
· Expand participation in innovative programs such as community land trusts that develop and preserve affordable housing for prospective homebuyers.
· Ensure that large-scale development activities include affordable and workforce housing components enabling essential workers to live near major employers.
· Support existing affordable housing developments with access to recapitalization and modernization resources so they can maintain the highest quality living standards for their residents and surrounding communities. This would include allowing workforce housing units to exist alongside affordable units to provide diversity of incomes as well as more favorable financing options.
· Adopt affordable housing finance regulations that refine construction wage requirements to promote wage growth without unnecessarily driving up construction costs.
The development and operation of affordable housing is one of the best examples of public/private partnerships, which invest federal, state and local dollars while leveraging private risk-taking and investment. These partnerships work, but we can, and should, do more. It is critical to our citizens’ and communities’ future that we do so.
Louis Wolfson III is a founding partner of Pinnacle Housing Group and PHG Builders, Incorporated.