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May 24, 2006 - Miami Herald

City is buying lots of lots

Hallandale Beach is stepping up its affordable-housing program, trying to acquire more property now as prices climb.

By Diana Moskovitz

Hallandale Beach is joining the South Florida hunt for property, but for a slightly different reason than most.

For several years the city has been buying lots for an affordable-housing program. It stepped up the effort in late 2005 and has bought about 12 lots this year, community redevelopment coordinator Angela Bauldree said.

Hallandale Beach already owns a string of small lots along Foster Road.

All are in the city's northwest section, which has pockets of blight and has seen less development than the rest of the city.

City leaders said they decided to step up their buying in reaction to climbing real estate prices, wanting to get what they could while pockets of the city were still affordable.

''We know that land is scarce,'' City Commissioner Joe Gibbons said.

The city plans to resell most of the lots -- at cost -- to low- and middle-income families. For example, a family of four could qualify if it earns no more than $72,000 a year.

The family also could get a special loan of up to $40,000 to help buy or build a home. The loan would not have to be repaid if the family stays at least 10 years.

Buying land is just one of the tactics local leaders are trying out as home prices climb faster than wages, said Jim Murley, director of the center for urban and environmental studies at Florida Atlantic University.

And the push for leaders to do something has grown stronger as business leaders realized high housing prices made recruiting workers harder, he said.

''Almost all of the urban cities and counties in Florida are experimenting with every possible tool they can get their hands on to attain affordable workforce housing,'' Murley said.

Murley said having local governments buy the land themselves is important because this keeps the homes affordable longer.

Murley said cities can use deed restrictions to ensure that properties remain in the ``pool of affordable housing.''

Hallandale Beach hopes to do this with penalties it builds into deeds with home buyers.

The penalties are based on how much time an owner spends in the home. The sooner someone tries to sell, the more they have to pay back unless they live in the home for at least 10 years.

The city also has a small window, about 15 days, to decide if it wants to buy back the home at market price. If Hallandale Beach passes, the home can be sold on the open market -- but the city gets part of the profits.

The goal is to keep people from quickly flipping the homes for a profit, which had happened in the past, Mayor Joy Cooper said.

All the lots this year were bought on the open market, Bauldree said.

In past years, the city has acquired lots when Broward County officials took them from owners who hadn't paid their property taxes in three years, Bauldree said. The county then turned over those lots to the city program.

The city also has one case where it hopes to create housing instead of just helping locate and buy homes.

A townhome project is planned for a strip of lots the city bought along Foster Road, Bauldree said. The Foster Road lots were too small, 25 feet by 75 feet, to build individual houses.

The city already has struck agreements with developers of two projects requiring them to build lower-priced housing outside their plans in return for city approval.