Neighborhood Transformation

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Sun Sentinel - August 26, 2012

Despite housing bust, prices still too high for many South Florida families
By Larry Barszewski,

When South Florida's housing bubble burst and home prices plummeted, they never fell far enough to make rents or single-family homes affordable for the average family.

The median home price in Broward County last year was still $47,611 more than the median household could afford, according to an assessment performed by Florida International University's Metropolitan Center. The gap was $47,263 in Palm Beach County and $60,243 in Miami-Dade County, the report said.

More than half the renters in Broward County – 107,107 in 2010 – are "extremely cost-burdened," spending more than half their income on rent, the report showed.

"For people that are lower-income, even with low interest rates and low payments, they still can't come up with the down payments that are now required," said Ralph Stone, director of Broward County's Housing Finance and Community Development Division. "The foreclosure inventory is not making any kind of dent in the affordable rent housing."

South Florida efforts to require new residential developments to include affordable or workforce housing haven't paid off yet.

Palm Beach and Broward counties both passed rules in 2006, and each has received commitments for more than 1,500 affordable houses, condos or apartments. So far, none of the homes has been built in either county, although Palm Beach County has 168 of the reduced-rent apartments on the market or under construction.

Coral Springs, Boynton Beach and Davie, three cities that created their own workforce housing requirements before the stock market collapse in 2008, have each temporarily suspended their programs in the past year. Coral Springs and Boynton Beach have had no projects come through since passing their ordinances in 2006 and 2007, respectively, and Davie officials complained the regulation was stifling development.

Despite those setbacks, Fort Lauderdale is considering making its own affordable housing requirements — six years after former Mayor Jim Naugle said a similar plan reeked of communism.

The city's Affordable Housing Advisory Committee says the affordability gap will continue to widen as the housing market rebounds.

"I think Fort Lauderdale is a different community than Coral Springs and Davie. It's the urban center of Broward County. There's a greater need," developer and committee member Peter Henn said.

"When people's kids can't come back to Fort Lauderdale because they can't afford to live here, that's when [people] realize there's a problem," Henn said.

The committee last week presented commissioners with a recommendation that the city require residential developments with at least 10 units to have 10 percent of the units set aside for affordable housing, or for the developer to pay $100,000 into a trust fund for each required affordable housing unit.

Industry representative worry about the impact of such regulations.

"Something like this would dramatically discourage construction, especially rental apartments," developer Jack Loos said.

Developer Dev Motwani said it wouldn't be hard for developers of luxury homes and condos to write a check, but it would be for less-upscale projects.

"What this will do is end a lot of development in the middle market," Motwani said.

Committee members said the city could offer increased density, reduced parking or other measures as incentives to offset the cost to developers.

The committee did a study showing the median sales price of single-family homes in the city dropped from $360,000 in 2005 to $200,000 in 2010, while the median household income dropped slightly, to $43,320.

The changes narrowed the affordability gap tremendously, but didn't eliminate it. Fort Lauderdale's median home price was $227,493 more than the average family could afford in 2005, the committee's report said, and was still $70,040 out of reach in 2010.

The news isn't good for renters, either. The median rent for a two-bedroom unit in Fort Lauderdale was $1,809 a month, according to the FIU study, which is about $726 a month more than the median household can afford.

One bright spot for average South Florida families seeking a place to live is the condo market, with its depressed values. The average family could afford to spend $70,600 more than the median condo price in Palm Beach County, $69,702 more in Broward, and $10,657 more in Miami-Dade, the FIU study said.

But the condo numbers didn't hold up in Fort Lauderdale, with its expensive waterfront and beach condos. The city's advisory committee said the median-priced condo in the city was still $60,040 more than the average family could afford.

lbarszewski@tribune.com or 954-356-4556