As Live Local Act-apportioned State Apartment Incentive Loan (SAIL) Program funding becomes available and development begins, it is important to consider first steps and best practices toward realizing the full potential of this investment in expanding affordable housing in Florida. Some steps deal with the types of housing that can be more easily developed in suburban or mid- to high-density areas. Others are paths for local governments to ensure a larger stock of affordable housing and housing options in the future. Many create opportunities for public-private partnerships — something specifically encouraged by the state in the Live Local language.
In early November, the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation, Gulf Coast Community Foundation, Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Community Assisted and Supported Living (CASL), Florida Housing Coalition, One Stop Housing, and Florida Policy Institute (FPI) convened a summit to discuss local affordable housing challenges. In front of an audience that included investors, developers, local business owners, public officials, and interested Sarasota County residents, the organizations explored recommendations — three of which are outlined below — to spur the development of affordable housing in the region.
1. Create Community Land Trusts
A Community Land Trust (CLT) is a nonprofit organization, led by community members, to hold land and carry out development and projects on these parcels. CLTs are often run by a board, staff, and local residents. CLTs can create and administer many types of projects; however, they are often utilized to develop and maintain affordable housing. CLTs must balance the interests of the residents, the community at large, and values of public welfare to provide safe and sustainable solutions for the needs of the relevant community. Some CLTs work in conjunction with Community Land Banks (CLBs), which are created by local governments to hold surplus lands. CLBs can also be useful under Live Local, as reporting surplus lands is a requirement under the new law and keeping clear records is encouraged for all relevant levels of government. For interested communities, the Florida Housing Coalition already has a successful Community Land Trust Initiatives Program with easy-to-find training and technical assistance readily available.
CLTs must balance the interests of the residents, the community at large, and values of public welfare to provide safe and sustainable solutions for the needs of the relevant community.
2. Create Local Affordable Housing Trusts
Affordable Housing Trusts (AHTs) are a government-created, community-driven way for cities to invest in building and maintaining affordable housing. Unlike a CLT, an AHT is created by a municipal government, receives dedicated funding, is utilized specifically for affordable housing related expenses, and often does not hold land. The benefit of a local AHT is that the funding for projects can be tied to the localities’ specific housing needs. Developers are required to follow the area median-income limits, inclusionary zoning rules, or other requirements established by the AHT. These trusts can also use the funding for affordable housing-related solutions, such as local housing vouchers and interest-rate focused gap financing. AHTs also provide a great opportunity for public-private partnerships — which Live Local encourages.
3. Increase Density Through Creative Housing Solutions
As Live Local encourages building up instead of building out, this could lead to housing and housing opportunities that are more safe, affordable, and sustainable. There are multiple ways to increase density:
- Build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) on or around single-family and duplex residential units. While located on the same single-family or duplex residential plots, ADUs are residential units that are independent of the primary dwelling unit(s). These can be built as attached or freestanding in respect to the primary unit on the plot.
- Utilize existing structures that have since been abandoned. Using abandoned malls and department stores, for example, can reduce a great amount of financing needed, as rehabilitating a development is usually much cheaper than building from scratch.
- Combine inclusionary zoning with certain development deregulation. Increasing density should be accompanied by infrastructure improvements, meaning this also opens a door for potential public-private partnerships. Inclusionary zoning can help ensure that affordable housing is created for the workers brought on by the increase in density.
- Utilize employer-assisted housing solutions. A recent example is school districts attempting to house teachers in close, safe, and affordable units. However, employer-assisted housing opportunities should be approached with caution to avoid the pitfalls seen in company towns, such as the imbalance of power between employer-landlords and employee-tenants, as the latter relies on the former for their paycheck and housing. Thought must also be given to situations where an employee is fired but retains a leasehold, or where a tenant who has been evicted still works for the employer. One last consideration is how municipalities will approach housing conditions violations by employers who might also employ a large amount of the region’s workforce.
Luckily for developers, investors, local legislators, and Florida residents, many of these paths have been taken before: other U.S. cities and counties have left best practices as markers for Florida housing advocates to follow. For example:
- Burlington, VT and Minneapolis, MN each have successfully served hundreds of households through CLTs.
- Austin, TX and Denver, CO have effective AHTs that have raised millions of dollars to develop and maintain thousands of homes.
- Successful paths to increase density have been developed in San Diego, CA through developing ADUs; Montgomery County, MD through inclusionary zoning; and Bay County, CA via employer-assisted housing opportunities.
These are all examples that Florida can learn from as the state ventures into these new opportunities for affordable housing. It will be interesting to see which best practices work best for Sarasota County, other Florida municipalities, and the state as a whole. Potentially there will even be new trails blazed on the trek for safe, stable, and affordable housing for every Floridian.