Can we afford affordable housing?
In these politically divided times, the one thing everyone agrees on is that we need more affordable housing. Or, if you want to split hairs, more housing for labor.
That’s true in much of America and painfully so in Florida where 70% of low-income families are burdened with costs and affordable housing is only available for 28% of eligible people, according to the National Low Income Housing. Coalition.
The problem is particularly serious in the greater Naples area. Here’s why.
• Housing stock is low, driving up prices.
• Construction costs have skyrocketed, limiting developers’ incentives.
• Zoning restrictions and regulatory delays have worsened.
• New residents are pouring into Southwest Florida every day, raising the stakes for everything.
As a result, the problem affects more people in more professions than ever before. Teachers, first responders, clerks, technicians, construction workers, field workers, grocery and hotel workers.
I-75 is clogged southbound every morning as those who cannot afford to live here come to work. And it’s clogged up north in the late afternoon as they head home.
Businesses that rely on low- and mid-cost labor are struggling to stay afloat. A family print shop that I used to visit has just closed its doors for lack of manpower. Restaurants are folding. Law enforcement can’t fill vacancies because new officers can’t afford to live here.
Is the government doing something?
At the federal level, President Biden has just announced his intention to expand funding for affordable housing. The focus is on factory-built homes and mobile homes. Fannie Mae loans will also be available to developers to further stimulate low-cost construction. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it will take at least five years to close the “housing supply gap”.
At least the Feds are moving forward. The state seems to be backtracking. Local laws restrict what can be done locally, and money for statewide housing assistance has just been canceled.
Worse, last year Tallahassee gutted the Sadowski Fund, established in 1992 to help communities deal with housing issues. In 2021, the Legislature permanently redirected half of the fund elsewhere – a loss of hundreds of millions for affordable housing.
What about local authorities? Some help. The Fort Myers City Council just voted to establish a Workforce Housing Trust Fund.
Collier Commissioners, meanwhile, question whether landlords should give tenants 60 days notice if they plan to raise rents by 5% or more. It’s pretty lame. A delay in raising the rent doesn’t help much.
If the current commissioners are slow, the candidates for Districts 2 and 4 are not. Each of them has something to say about the problem. One suggestion is public-private partnerships, with hospitals, fire districts and school boards taking over the funding.
Some non-governmental experts also intervened. Last month, a panel convened by local restaurant and accommodation associations and the Naples and Marco Chambers of Commerce looked into the problem.
The group first recognized what had been done. Kudos to Habitat for Humanity organizations for delivering 2,400 affordable housing units to the area, including 13 full housing developments. Habitat work continues, now focused on available land to the east.
The panel also discussed new approaches. A key, he said, was to increase population density — insert low-cost units into existing neighborhoods and convert unoccupied buildings into hotels or motels for the workforce with low-cost units. price to buy or rent.
Increasing availability is one thing. Making it affordable is another. And that invariably takes grants, tax credits, bonds, subsidies – taxpayers’ money in one form or another. What’s the bottom line?
It’s a complex problem with no quick fix. Success will be measured in small increments over many, many years. ¦
— Chemist and resident of southwest Florida, Dave Trecker sits on several regional councils.