Affordable Housing Solutions WORKFORCE HOUSING — The Crisis isn’t Fixed Yet

by Joe Trachtenberg, Former Chairman of Collier County’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee

Collier County has made some zoning changes and taken other actions for which celebration on the affordable housing front is in order. And while this is very good news, we are not yet where we need to be.

At their March 28 meeting, Collier County’s Board of County Commissioners (BCC) ended a thirteen month period where the subject was ignored, and placed workforce housing on their agenda.

County staff did an excellent job presenting the four proposed zoning changes, which not only had their support but also the unanimous concurrence of the Planning Commission. These proposals were first recommended in 2017 by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) the highly respected land use consultant the county hired six years ago. Their passage improves our ability to attract affordable housing developers to our county. The proposals are as follows:

  • Allowing more affordable housing by right in certain commercial zoning districts.
  • Increasing density allowances for affordable housing in activity centers.
  • Establishing a new subdistrict that allows more residential density in mixed-use districts.
  • Raising density allowances for affordable housing projects built along county bus routes.

The commissioners were not in favor of “by right” changes, and with that one deletion, approved the resolution by a 4-1 vote (McDaniels voting no).

The other cause for celebration at the BCC meeting was approval of rules by which land might be considered for purchase for workforce housing use, from the $20 Million sales surtax fund. Back in 2018 voters approved a $490 Million 1% surtax imposition. Of this, $20 Million was allocated to acquire land specifically earmarked for this use. A recently created subcommittee of county staff and AHAC members was appointed. It was this group’s recommendations which were accepted.

Also occurring the same week was the Governor signing the new “Live Local” bill which was originally proposed by Senate President and Naples resident Kathleen Passidomo. It recognized the inaction of certain county leaders in dealing with affordable housing issues, and superseded their authority in several important ways. I met with Kathleen while she was formulating her proposals.

The bill bypasses a local government’s rules for density and building height when affordable housing is involved. Additionally it offers new funding from the state, and the opportunity to reduce or even eliminate the payment of real estate taxes. It will potentially be a game changer.

Collier County is still on an uneven playing field in attracting developers willing to build affordable housing. Our impact fees are among the highest in the state, and our deferral program is out of step with the timing needed for postponement. If we are to be successful we must make changes in this crucial area. Adding millions to the cost of building workforce housing subdivisions will assure they are built elsewhere.

Finally there is an important element of affordable housing about which we must remain diligent. Current laws define affordable housing as up to 120% of Area Median Income (AMI). Due to its enormous wealth, Collier County’s AMI is approximately $98,000. This means a family earning $120,000 and paying $3000 per month rent, will be considered “affordable.”

The de facto minimum wage in our county is $15-17 an hour. The bulk of our essential workers earn $30-50,000 per year. THESE ARE THE INDIVIDUALS WHO ARE STRUGGLING. if our county continues to allocate so-called affordable housing to folks who can afford to pay $2000 and more in monthly rent, we will accomplish virtually nothing. THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS.

There’s no question Collier County is experiencing an affordable housing crisis. We have now witnessed some important movement by our leaders. We mustn’t be complacent now – too much is at stake. Keep pressing our commissioners to make more changes to mitigate this crisis.

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