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Report: Revision to ‘Live Local Act’ reduces stock of affordable/workforce housing in FL

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Report: Revision to ‘Live Local Act’ reduces stock of affordable/workforce housing in FL

Jun 11, 2024 | 7:00 am ET
By Mitch Perry
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Report: Revision to ‘Live Local Act’ reduces stock of affordable/workforce housing in FL
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Senate President Kathleen Passidomo joins House Speaker Paul Renner after the 'Live Local Act' bill passed on March 24, 2023 (photo credit: Mitch Perry)

Last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill (SB 328) revising 2023’s Live Local Act, the $711 million package that offered developers tax breaks and bypasses around local zoning restrictions to create more affordable and workforce housing in the Sunshine State.

Now data accumulated by LandTech, which provides site sourcing technology for developers, suggest that new amendments to the Live Local Act will mean a 22% reduction in sites available to affordable housing developers from what was originally proposed for the state’s five biggest metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) — Jacksonville, South Florida, Sarasota/Bradenton, Orlando-Kissimmee, and the Tampa Bay Area.

The report says that with passage of the new legislation, there now 6.6 billion fewer square feet of land available for this kind of development. Some 30.2 billion square feet of potential affordable housing development in the state’s five biggest MSAs would have been available under the original legislation.

LandTech staff say they used “a blend” of public and private data to reach that conclusion, including tax assessor and zoning data from each metro area.

“Of course, this is only across Florida’s top five MSAs,” PJ Appleton, a spokesperson for LandTech, told the Phoenix. “It’s also impossible to know how many waterfront or commercial/industrial assets affordable housing developments would have been interested in. But it does give a sense of the impact of Live Local legislation vs. the original concept.”

The original Live Local Act gave tax breaks to developers who create multifamily and mixed-use residential properties with at least 70 units in any area zoned for commercial, industrial, or mixed-use. At least 40% of those units would be set aside as affordable for people making up to 120% of the local area median income (AMI). Their commitments to affordable housing would be enforceable for up to 30 years.

(The top AMIs for each county in the state vary: In Miami-Dade County, 120% of AMI for a family of four is $136,200.In Madison County, it’s $78,240. In Alacuha County, it’s $114,360. In Santa Rosa County, it’s $107,880).

But pushback from some local communities and developers compelled lawmakers to amend that law in 2024.

The changes

Among those changes, according to a legislative analysis, are clarification of developers’ ability to build taller buildings, more housing units, or more floor space than normally allowed in exchange for providing more affordable housing units. The new law trims the ability to build taller buildings next door to single-family homes; eases restrictions on parking for developments close to transit facilities; and clarifies that affordable units be available for rent, not purchase.

Land-use attorneys who follow the Live Local Act told the Phoenix there is no way to verify how accurate LandTech’s numbers are. But they do have ambivalent thoughts about some of the amendments placed in this year’s “glitch” bill to address problems that stemmed from the 2023 bill.

For example, take another new provision that prohibits construction of a proposed development within a quarter mile of either side of an existing or planned airport runway extending 10,000 feet. That change has “single-handedly killed” several proposed affordable housing developments, according to Jake Cremer, a partner with Stearns Weaver Miller, a law firm with offices throughout Florida.

“We’ve had at least half a dozen affordable housing projects just die on the vine because of these new restrictions of using it, I would say, in the vicinity of airports,” says Cremer.

Future of housing

An example of that, said Nicole Neugebauer MacInnes, another Stearns Weaver Miller attorney, is Peter O. Knight Airport, a small facility on Tampa’s Davis Islands, just minutes from downtown.

“When you extend that runway out, you’re taking a chunk of downtown Tampa,” McInnes said. “Which takes those properties out of being eligible for Live Local. And we’re seeing that all over the state because of the way that [the law] is written as it applies to airports. It doesn’t say, ‘large, commercial, Tampa International-style airports,’ or these little, small-planes ones. It just says airports.”

A separate tax bill (HB 7073) recently signed by DeSantis also bears implications for the future of housing, at least in certain corridors. The measure allows counties to opt out of giving property tax exemptions to developers if the number of available affordable units in a metro area is greater than the number of renter households that meet the income criteria for the 80% to 120% AMI.

Pasco County Commissioners voted last month to opt out of that exemption for the 2025 tax year. And they have a wish list for lawmakers of additional reforms for Live Local when they meet next year in Tallahassee.

“Pasco County would like lawmakers to address the land use/zoning preemption in the Live Local Act,” said Pasco Chief Assistant County Attorney David Goldstein in an email.

“Specifically, Pasco County would like lawmakers to either (a) exempt ‘jobs poor’ counties like Pasco from the preemption, (b) limit the preemption to housing below 80% of AMI, and/or (c) implement a multi-family zoning credit allowing counties to get credit for subjecting vacant or underutilized multifamily zoned sites to the Live Local Act in exchange for being able to remove their highest priority commercial and industrial sites from the Live Local preemption.”

Pasco County isn’t the only local government that doesn’t like the fact that Live Local still allows developers to get tax breaks to build housing in areas previously zoned as industrial. In Doral, located just a mile away from Miami International Airport, Mayor Christi Fraga says industrial zones are an important economic driver for all of Miami-Dade County.

“The fact that we could still see one of these buildings go up in an industrial area where we normally wouldn’t allow residential is definitely concerning,” Fraga said. “The fact that the local authorities have zero say over that? I think that is a concern.”

Incompatible

Fraga does appreciate that the new law modifies the height preemption provisions where a qualifying development is adjacent to single family uses.  It comes a year too late, however, to stop a project a developer introduced last year immediately after the Live Local Act went into effect, consisting of more than 600 apartments in five towers that originally would have been between 10 and 12 stories high.

Fraga said that was completely incompatible with the city’s zoning code.

After threatening to file a lawsuit, the developer and the city came to a settlement agreement last year permitting three towers, with the tallest now being eight stories, according to the South Florida Business Journal.

Fraga doesn’t believe that there’s enough oversight of developers when it comes to their tax breaks over the 30-year duration of a project.

“The onus on the auditing on whether 40% of the units are actually being rented to workforce housing is basically just an affidavit,” she said. “I don’t think that there’s enough oversight or enforcement on that aspect, and really all of that responsibility is being put on the city.”

Former St. Petersburg Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes, whose Florida Policy Project think tank hosted an all-day conference on Florida’s housing crisis last month, has never been a big fan of the Live Local Act.

“Florida lacks a clear housing strategy built on best practices,” he said this week. “We offer a patchwork of regulations and continue to implement policies without understanding the consequences. Live Local should be retitled ‘Live in Apartments.’ Until the state finds the courage to address local zoning and lot size issues, we will never fix the housing challenges of Florida.”