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Miami Herald - 12/29/04 -

Free-lot program for affordable housing catching on in Broward


Broward County officials have compiled a list of 15 developers interested in a program meant to create affordable housing on county-owned land and spur redevelopment in Central Broward's poorer neighborhoods.

Planning officials expect to narrow the list, now closed, by the end of January, leaving a final group eligible to submit proposals as the county gives away batches of vacant lots. The county has clear title to about 60 lots in Roosevelt Gardens, Washington Park and other unincorporated neighborhoods and expects to clear 50 or so additional lots within a year, officials said.

The hope is that free land, along with speedy permitting and fee waivers, will allow developers to sell high-quality single-family homes at affordable rates.

The program, scheduled to last three years, is part of a broader county effort to encourage development of moderately priced homes within reach of the average worker.

Builders will be invited to submit proposals competing for the first batch of up to 20 lots, all in Roosevelt Gardens, as early as February, said Al Shamoun, director of the county's planning services division.

The first proposals are expected to generate homes selling for $150,000 to $160,000, but overall the program will produce a mix of price levels, Shamoun said. A committee will evaluate proposals and make recommendations to the full County Commission.

Creating a qualified pool of developers in advance will allow the county to streamline the application and review process, Shamoun said.

''We want to keep it moving,'' he said.

``The hope is once the homes on county land are built, private developers will come into the area and build them with minimal county assistance.''

The county already has invested millions in infrastructure and other improvements in the central county neighborhoods.

All but one of the 15 prospective developers listed Broward addresses. The firms range in size; at least one is a nonprofit.

Among the best-known is Lennar Corp., a national powerhouse that has increasingly turned its attention to redevelopment opportunities in Broward. But smaller firms such as Alliance Development Co., of Coconut Creek, also hope to compete.

Alliance President Don Patterson said the county was smart to remove key barriers to producing affordable homes on scattered lots: the cost of land and the time required to clear titles.

''The time and money expended make it very difficult for a developer to make homes available at an affordable price,'' he said. ``But with the county involved, it opens up the opportunities.'