2017-12-01 / Spotlight News

Collier County drafts plan to increase affordable housing

By Don Manley
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Forty percent (40%) of all Collier County households were cost burdened in 2015, spending more than 30% of their gross income on housing. Twenty percent (20%) were severely cost burdened, spending more than 50% of their monthly income on housing expenses. Forty percent (40%) of all Collier County households were cost burdened in 2015, spending more than 30% of their gross income on housing. Twenty percent (20%) were severely cost burdened, spending more than 50% of their monthly income on housing expenses. The next step in addressing Collier County’s shortage of housing affordable for a broad cross section of the community will be taken early next year.

A plan that establishes standards for affordable housing was accepted, but not adopted, by the county commissioners in late October. The first of the board’s public workshops on the draft’s recommendations likely will be held in February, according to Cormac Giblin, the county’s community and human services division housing study, grants and housing development manager. He anticipates a final plan will be developed over the next six to nine months.

The proposed community housing plan was devised over about 18 months by a commissioner-appointed advisory committee composed of developers, members of the construction industry, large employers and other business leaders, along with residents. They were aided by an extensive list of representatives from governmental institutions, trade and religious organizations, among others.

Concerns that a lack of affordable rental and for-purchase housing forces many workers to live outside Collier County or dedicate a significant portion of their income to in-county housing prompted the plan. The problem is expected to intensify as the county’s population grows. The housing climate’s effect on senior citizens and people with special needs provided further motivation.

“This isn’t about putting people that you don’t know in homes,” county commission Chairwoman Penny Taylor said at the Oct. 25 meeting where the plan’s recommendations received their first public airing. “This is about the people that take care of you in the hospital, the people who teach your grandchildren, first responders that worked so hard during the hurricane. This about my neighbor across the street who’s on Social Security whose husband died and she doesn’t know if she can stay in her house. It’s about seniors and it’s about my children wanting to come back to this community and finding a place to live.”

Hospitality, healthcare, retail, construction, administrative support and personal services workers, and general laborers are also among those affected by the affordable housing crunch in a county in which 61 percent of jobs pay less than $33,250 annually.

The draft includes an updated definition of affordable housing that corresponds to federal and state of Florida definitions. The new definition uses household income as the primary determinant and states that if a household spends less than 30 percent of its gross income on housing, then its housing is affordable.

The draft also recommends increasing certainty in the construction approval process, reducing development costs and review times, enhancing existing incentives such as the affordable housing density and activity center bonus programs. Activity centers are areas near the junction of two major roads that typically permit a mix of residential and commercial uses.

The draft mentions implementing a mixed-income ordinance with enhanced density and flexible “in-lieu of” options, adopting a nonresidential linkage fee to generate revenue for a housing trust fund. An “in-lieu” fee is one developers pay, for example, to not include mixed-income units in a development. Developers are assessed linkage fees based on how their nonresidential development or redevelopment projects will affect employment demand and affordable housing needs.

Also recommended is the establishment of a maximum income level to be considered for affordable housing of 140 percent of the county’s median income, or $90,432 for a three-person household in 2017.

The Urban Land Institute reviewed Collier’s housing situation this year and found that 58,685 households, 40 percent of the county’s population, spend more than is affordable on housing.

Commissioner Burt Saunders suggested some of the plan’s provisions be removed, such as a per-unit fee of $127,000 for developers who choose not to include affordable housing in new residential communities, as well as the linkage fees. If they remain, proceeds from both would be placed in the proposed affordable housing trust fund.

“Clearly, this is just a framework” said Saunders at the meeting. “There’s nothing in this that binds anybody to anything or commits this board to anything. Whether we accept the report or adopt the report, it doesn’t change the fact that we’re not implementing anything today.”

Taylor said she was not in favor of removing the plan’s “two income-producing parts.”

“I’m not willing to do that at this point,” she said. “I think we need to understand the impact of not agreeing to this linkage fee and not agreeing to the “in-lieu of” fee.”

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