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Tampa Tribune - April 23, 2006
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Builders Sue To Stop City Law
By KAREN BRANCH-BRIOSO
TAMPA - This week, Tallahassee lawyers will file court papers to defend
a new city law that forces developers to build less expensive homes in
some of the capital city's tonier neighborhoods.
It may sound like a local dust-up. But in many counties and cities
across Florida where housing costs have scaled stunning new heights,
Tallahassee's law to require price caps on part of a private
development's homes is precisely what's in the works.
From Hillsborough and Pinellas to Miami-Dade counties and beyond, local
governments are closely watching Tallahassee's foray into mandatory
inclusionary zoning, used in places nationwide with pricey housing.
Keeping a close watch is the Florida Home Builders Association. The group sued Tallahassee on Feb. 28.
"I don't think it's constitutional, certainly in Tallahassee, to
require one small group of people to pay money to deal with a perceived
problem that was created by the community at large over many years,"
said Barry Richard, attorney for the Florida Home Builders Association
and local builders and Realtors suing to stop the law.
"The intent of the lawsuit is to establish a precedent that the
community cannot do this in this manner. If it has the effect of
slowing it down [elsewhere] in the meantime, I'm sure they'll be
perfectly happy with that."
Laws Take Root Across State
Jaimie Ross, affordable housing director for 1000 Friends of Florida,
said Key West was the first many years ago with such a policy, but its
small size and limited growth abilities didn't set off the firestorm
that Tallahassee's has. She understands why. City after county after
city in Florida have been shipping off proposals to her for advice.
"I've reviewed plans for Sarasota, Martin County and St. Lucie County,
and I was just e-mailed the other day from the city of Palmetto. I
reviewed Miami-Dade," Ross said. "I don't think the Florida Home
Builders Association is coy at all with this lawsuit because they want
to stop this. They want to have a chilling effect on the others."
But the celebration, if there's any to be had by Richard's clients,
must wait. Although supporters of the laws across Florida have taken
notice of the lawsuit, they haven't stopped what they're doing.
Late last month, weeks after the lawsuit was filed, Palm Beach County
commissioners voted to establish an interim policy that went into
effect April 5. They've directed county planners to have their
structure in place by year's end for a law that will require developers
to do what the interim policy is now politely asking of new private
developments of 10 or more residential units.
The smallest contribution allowed to "work-force housing" as they're
calling it: at least 7 percent of the units. The county can throw in
sweeteners for those who go further by allowing denser developments
than normally allowed - and, in some cases, a break on the money
builders must pay for a development's impact on roads. Also expected in
the mandatory policy: less red tape for construction permits. The perks
are typical of others under consideration.
"The programs that were overturned usually were not providing adequate
incentives," said Michael Howe, senior planner for Palm Beach County.
"Those programs that were providing incentives, those seemed to be the
programs that were successful."
Plan Targets Middle Class
In Palm Beach County, where the median home price is almost $400,000
and the median income is $64,400, the policy doesn't try to help the
very poor. Instead its housing plan seeks to create a building boom for
homes that cost between $164,000 to $304,000, so middle-income workers
can live in Palm Beach County.
"What we've been seeing over the last few years is a lot of families
moving north into Martin and St. Lucie counties because they can get
more bang for their buck, and they're commuting to Palm Beach County
for work," Howe said. "Three years ago, you could buy what was going
for $350,000 here, you could buy for $150,000 there. But that's
changing. Now those are getting up in the $300,000 range, too."
Miami-Dade County's proposal, set for a hearing next month, is targeting families making $36,000 to $78,000.
"There's a work-force housing problem in Broward County, in Palm Beach
County, in Monroe County. There's no place for stressed workers in
Miami-Dade County to go," said John McInnis, who is drafting the
ordinance in the Miami-Dade attorney's office.
Pinellas Wants Broader Approach
The story is similar in Sarasota County and in Palmetto in Manatee
County, which held a workshop last week on its proposal targeted at
housing for middle-income workers. Pinellas County, however, hopes to
create homes for lower-income workers in its plan still on the drawing
"We're looking at everyone," Pinellas County Commission Chairman Ken
Welch said. "It seems to make sense. The maids, the taxi drivers, the
wait staff. These are the guys that drive our tourism economy - and
they can't afford an $180,000 home."
Tallahassee's law, which went into effect in October, says when
developers build a project of 50 or more homes in the city's
higher-income neighborhoods, at least 10 percent must be priced at no
more than $159,378.
The law also calls for 15 percent of rental units to be set aside for
rents affordable to the target households. There are some options built
in, including allowing developers to pay a flat fee to a city housing
trust fund instead of including the units in the developments. But when
they are built as part of the development, the cheaper units must go to
homeowners or renters who fit the city's income target: from $28,260
for a one-person household to $76,200 for an eight-member family.
Edie Ousley, spokeswoman for the Florida Home Builders Association,
said the group has long advocated for lower-cost housing in other ways.
She said the group pushed the creation in 1992 of affordable housing
trust funds fueled by real estate sales.
"We don't think mandatory inclusionary zoning is affordable housing,"
Ousley said of ordinances such as Tallahassee's. "Where a percentage of
those homes have to be sold at a set price, then it is the remainder of
the market-rate buyers that actually subsidize those inclusive homes.
When that happens, the market-rate home buyers pay more for their
Tallahassee City Attorney Jim English said the built-in perks save
developers time and money: "We've yet to see what this burden is. We
have two developers not covered by the ordinance who came in and said,
'We want to do inclusionary housing to take advantage of the trade-off
benefits in the ordinance.' What they tell us with the higher
densities, they don't believe it will cost them a dime."