Ever since we finally recognized our road system was years behind approved growth, county government has been trying to play catch up and we are still not even close. This same scenario is now playing out with affordable housing except this time, trying to catch up with our backlog will make our road problems seem like child’s play.
The on-going idea of how to fix affordable housing is to provide incentives to developers so they can presumably gain enough profit to make building affordable units desirable. Of course, the issue is what “enough” is. To compare profits on high density affordable housing to the profits obtained from million-dollar low density homes with all available amenities is a joke. Density is not enough of an incentive and will never be enough of an incentive as long as real estate prices remain the way they are in Collier County.
Roads did not happen until we made development dependent upon concurrency mandatory, which means the building of roads must occur within a reasonable time frame of development, or development simply cannot go forward. While we are slowly trying to catch up with our roads, the wait for homes for working residents of this county does not allow the same luxury of years and years of delays that our road system is experiencing.
Incentives have been in place for years and the effect has not been sufficient to even come close to solving the problem. There was a time when this county had a balance of affordable land for affordable housing that occurred in the early years before our rapidly evolving, high priced coastal real estate market became so hot. Now our escalating real estate prices have placed us far out of balance and new solutions need to be sought.
A proposal soon to come before our board of commissioners warrants careful consideration that might have a solid impact on our production of affordable units. That proposal will be centered on a zoning program called inclusionary zoning. This could end up requiring all new residential developments to contain some affordable units on site or provide a healthy fee for not doing so. That requirement will most likely be a percentage ranging from 10-25 percent of the overall density of the project.
What makes this idea more realistic than a voluntary incentive density bonus is that no matter how low the density for the large expensive home project, a percentage of the total density must be accounted for in affordable units, either on site or by a healthy financial payment.
The county currently has stringent rules that must be met to qualify for affordable housing. These rules address such things as the purchase or rental prices in comparison to a family’s income and restrictions on affordable housing resale within 15 years of purchase. This is intended to keep the affordable inventory around for some time and not end up being used for speculation.
The idea of inclusionary zoning is nothing new; it has been in discussion for several years. Like our roads, the more we have delayed in getting something concrete and mandatory on the ground, the farther behind we have become and now a crisis is upon us. While there are many who will claim that incentives have worked and the market can take care of itself, the proof is in the pudding -- incentives have not come close to working.
We have an acknowledged crisis by practically every facet of society and no matter what examples are put forward, incentives by themselves are simply not enough.
While inclusionary zoning will most likely not fix past deficiencies, it will go a long way in keeping up with the demands of new construction on the affordable housing market.