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Tackling the Problem of Affordable Housing

By County Commissioner Karen T. Marcus, District 1

Everyone knows the high cost of a single family home or condominium these days and yet the medium income for a family of four in Palm Beach County is only $64,400. The median home price here still hovers around $400,000.

There is a very real shortfall of affordable housing for County residents in the low to middle income levels, and for those who can only afford to rent, most rentals are being converted to expensive condos. After several months of discussion and staff study, at one time including the possibility of implementing a moratorium on residential development, County Commissioners now have a plan to provide workforce/affordable housing throughout the unincorporated areas of the County.

As of April 5th, all residential development applications submitted to the County in most cases must designate at least 25% of the homes for workforce housing, in the price range of $164,000 to $304,000. Also, there can be density bonuses offered to developers so they can build up to 30% more homes than usual in order to help recover some lost profit by building less than market rate housing. Though we want builders to commit to building affordable homes, they can opt to contribute into an affordable housing fund or include affordable homes in a different project planned elsewhere as other options to this plan. Once a project is planned, the County has committed to move more quickly in the permitting process.

Another way developers can help is to purchase existing units or buy vacant land to put into the County’s inventory. Mixed use housing plans (town homes, single family homes, condos, apartments) could then be provided within planned unit developments, allowing for diversity of housing units.

Community land trusts are another way to induce affordable housing. The County has formed a non-profit organization that can own land and make it available on a long-term basis for affordable housing. This Community Land Trust (CLT) will identify property and funding. As a pilot program, the County’s CLT has already purchased 10 acres that will now go out for bid.

Another option is to look at cities, which contain existing available land within municipal boundaries. We want to work collaboratively with cities, the business community and the School District, all of whom as employers are finding that their new hires cannot find suitable housing. The Jupiter Town Council is a good example of cities and the County working together. The town recently approved changes in Abacoa that permitted the developer to move some workforce housing units from a perimeter area to the Town Center, where employees will now be able to live and work in that same locale. The 372 units are all under $200,000.

County Commissioners see the issue of affordable housing as a real priority. We will need to change our own codes to allow us to rezone land for additional density (allowing for more houses on lots). We will continue to work with realtors, developers, municipalities and all entities to find workable solutions and maintain a lasting plan. Our residents and workforce deserve no less.