A Florida housing leader says developers can help solve the affordability crisis

Developers need to be treated as partners — not enemies — in affordable housing projects and essential to solving the statewide crisis, according to one of Florida’s leading experts on affordable housing.

“It is incredibly complex to build affordable housing, which is [the] why Live Local [Act] came in and did some of the things that they did to cut through that red tape, because it’s not enticing,” Sandra Veszi Einhorn, a board member of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, told a group of affordable housing stakeholders gathered in Hollywood on Wednesday. She’s also the executive director of the Coordinating Council of Broward.

The Live Local Act is the Florida Legislature’s answer to the state’s affordable housing crisis.

Approved by lawmakers and signed into law last March by Gov. Ron DeSantis, the $711 million Live Local Act provides incentives for investment in affordable housing and encourages mixed-use developments in struggling commercial areas. It also bars local rent controls and preempts local government rules on zoning, density and building heights in certain circumstances. It was a priority of Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples.

At Wednesday’s Broward Housing Council meeting, a panel of experts sought to answer questions about the new law, specifically related to South Florida.

Qualifying projects are defined as any residential housing project on commercial, industrial or mixed-use land that allocates at least 40 percent of units to be affordable for residents earning up to 120% of the area median income.

South Florida faces unique issues, like international buyers, lack of land to build on and strict building codes, said Einhorn.

“Making it easier to develop affordable housing is a really critical conversation that often times we don’t have,” she told the crowd.

The spirit of collaboration was shared by Michele Collie, the Director of Community Reinvestment at City National Bank, who spoke on the panel with Einhorn. She says a mix of private, public and non-profit organizations need to be part of any solution.

“I feel that everyone has to play a part,” she said. “Until we get everyone to be on board, we’re going to continue to have a problem.”

South Florida is among some of the most expensive places to live in the U.S. The median monthly rent for an apartment or home in South Florida is over $2,500, making it the seventh−highest among U.S. metro areas, according to the latest data from the National Association of Realtors.

Some local leaders have been hesitant to embrace the Live Local Act because it bars local rent controls and preempts municipal rules on zoning, density and — in certain cases — building heights.

A planned development in Miami Beach — one of the first to be proposed under the new state housing law — has sparked intense debate.

The Jesta Group, which owns the iconic Clevelander Hotel and Bar on Ocean Drive, announced plans in September to build a 30-story development — later lowered to 18 stories — with 40% of the units designated as “workforce housing” to meet the Live Local Act requirements.

Outgoing Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber slammed the developer’s proposal “as the worst idea ever.” City officials have told the developer that major revisions would be made to their plan under the statewide housing law.

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