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Senators Push Back On Affordable Housing Fixes

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health via wikimedia commons

A Senate panel is discussing how to re-envision Florida’s affordable housing system. 

The conversation in the Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Committee was freewheeling—so much so that Professor Sam Staley didn’t get a chance to give his presentation.  But he did get a quick word in at the end.

“This is a really important issue but it’s an important moment in Florida’s history to be taking this up,” Staley says.  “With the revisions that came with the growth management law that came in 2011, and coming out of the recession, at this point, there’s no better time to start addressing these kinds of issues.”

The time is ripe, Staley says, because the broader economic situation is favorable—but other speakers argue the time has come because the state could be on the verge of a crisis.  Florida’s recovery has been fueled by relatively low-paying jobs and the state is facing a shortfall in affordable housing.  

Edward Pinto works for the conservative think tank The American Enterprise Institute, but he spoke on behalf of an organization called Economical Housing.  He argues the tax credits used to subsidize rental housing simply can’t keep up with Florida’s population growth.

“That yields about three thousand units,” Pinto says.  “Three thousand units—yet there were 114,000 households added last year.” 

“So you see the math—the faster you go, the behinder you get.”

Instead, Pinto believes Florida needs to cut into local permitting and impact fees.  He says reducing costs by devoting a chunk of the state’s housing trust fund to those fees, and requiring local governments to match it, would begin to make a dent. 

The emphasis on local permitting continued with Adrian Moore from a libertarian think tank called the Reason Foundation.

Moore's chart comparing the cost of building in different communities.
Credit Adrian Moore Senate TED presentation
Moore's chart comparing the cost of building in different communities.

“If you compare the construction costs in a very unrestrictive place like Dallas to a very restrictive place like San Diego,” he says, “you can see that the difference in construction cost is small.  The difference in the land and regulatory restriction costs is predominately driving the differential.”

Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) chairs the committee and invited the slate of speakers.  But their suggestions—that local governments are hampering the growth of housing—faced pushback. 

Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples) seizes on Moore’s point about the cost of regulations and land.

“Because you can’t have somebody who is working on the beach, living next to the beach—it’s not going to happen,” she says, “because the land costs too much.”

“So we need to focus on transportation so people can get from their homes to their jobs,” Passidomo goes on, “not put their home next to their jobs if it’s not affordable.”

Sen. Bobby Powell (D-West Palm Beach) undercuts the call for a return to earlier policies.

“I don’t think the 1950s or 1960s—or 50 or 60 years ago—was an accurate representation of the state housing was working back then,” Powell says.  “A number of the housing acts and laws that have come since that time were because at the time housing was not working.”

And Sen. George Gainer (R-Panama City) is blunt in his assessment.

“Having spent 18 years as a county commissioner,” he says, “I take exception to the fact that local governments are the problem here.  Local governments are glad for you to build house and increase the ad valorem tax base of that community.”

But Brandes does believe the state’s current policy isn’t up the affordable housing challenge.  There are a handful of related measures slowly working their way through the chambers.  Brandes plans to spend the summer holding more hearings to develop a comprehensive set of policy recommendations that could break with the current system.

Nick Evans came to Tallahassee to pursue a masters in communications at Florida State University. He graduated in 2014, but not before picking up an internship at WFSU. While he worked on his degree Nick moved from intern, to part-timer, to full-time reporter. Before moving to Tallahassee, Nick lived in and around the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years. He listens to far too many podcasts and is a die-hard 49ers football fan. When Nick’s not at work he likes to cook, play music and read.