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Palm Beach Post - August 02, 2005

Boynton's Promenade Fuels
Affordability Debate

By Will Vash

BOYNTON BEACH — In exchange for a $6 million incentive package, the developer of The Promenade promised to offer "affordable access" to 16 condos in the towering, upscale structure.

At The Promenade, affordable means $238,000 to $257,000 per condominium.

Advocates of affordable housing say the swanky project with ocean views showcases the deep chasm between the haves and the have-nots.

"It's just another example of a major discord of what people need and can afford versus what's going on in the market," said David Zimet, executive director of the Boynton Beach Faith Based Community Development Corp. "It's just not going to happen without major subsidies."

A person making an average wage of $40,000 a year could not afford to live in a place like The Promenade, Zimet said.

Community Redevelopment Agency members in April approved a 10-year incentive package to the developers of The Promenade. The deal required that 16 of the condominiums be offered at a discount to buyers whose incomes qualify for lower-priced "affordable access."

Miami-based Panther Real Estate Partners plans to build two 14-story towers with a mix of 304 condos, 16 townhouses and 77 extended-stay furnished condo-hotel rooms in the downtown area.

The project, a couple of blocks from the Boynton Beach Marina, would also include a deck with putting greens, private cabanas, two pools, a whirlpool spa, shops and restaurants.

The developer could not be reached for comment Monday.

CRA Director Doug Hutchinson agrees that it is unrealistic that someone making $40,000 a year would be able to live in the complex, where condos were purchased at pre-construction prices ranging from the high $200,000s to close to $1 million.

He described the affordable condos as "workforce" units that would be marketed to young professionals.

"We are trying to make sure everyone has a good safe roof over their heads. All projects can't serve all people," Hutchinson said. "To even have one unit of workforce housing in a project like this is pretty remarkable."

Grand Bank & Trust President J. Russell Greene said a buyer would probably have to make at least $60,000 to afford an "affordable access" condo in The Promenade.

"It's a serious problem," Greene said of rising housing prices.

Roslynne Powell, housing counselor of Northwood Renaissance, a nonprofit economic development group, said The Promenade prices are way too high.

"That's definitely not considered affordable housing," she said. "An average person cannot afford that."

Powell said a realistic housing price for someone making between $35,000 and $40,000 a year is about $180,000.

Boynton Beach Mayor Jerry Taylor said the city still has a long way to go on affordable housing.

Officials are mulling an ordinance that would allow developers to build their projects with greater density in exchange for the inclusion of affordable housing. They are also considering a "community real estate trust" in charge of controlling property and providing the opportunity for home and landownership to lower-income and workforce residents.

"I don't think you're going to find them in a location like that," Taylor said of the likelihood of moderate-income workers moving into The Promenade.

Hutchinson said The Promenade units mark only the beginning of the city's efforts to encourage affordable housing in new developments.

He pointed to the former Boynton Mobile Home Village, where a developer plans to build 180 townhomes. In March, the city's CRA gave the developer a $1.1 million incentive package, which has been paying to move mobile-home residents from the park. The developers agreed to offer some of the new townhomes at lower prices to those residents.

"There's going to be many projects to address all different income levels. One project isn't going to do that," Hutchinson said. "It's going to take a little patience."