On Friday, March 29th a sold out crowd attended 2019’s first “Now Trending” lunch held at Sea Salt in the Sundial. Presented by Duke Energy, this quarter’s topic was Affordable Housing and our panel of experts included City Councilwoman Darden Rice, President and CEO of Habitat for Humanity, Mike Sutton, President and CEO of Blue Sky Communities Shawn Wilson, and Director of Planning and Development Services for the City of St. Pete, Liz Abernathy.
The program began with a discussion about zoning changes led by moderator Martha Boden, President of SPCA Tampa Bay. Boden reminded the panelists and attendees of the Chamber’s endorsement of several initiatives to help encourage the development of housing that is affordable for all income levels. The Chamber supports changes to zoning rules to allow infill and increased density in some single-family neighborhoods especially along transit corridors and areas of higher elevation.
Boden then asked Liz Abernathy to talk about the great work the city has done to change zoning rules to increase density in certain areas. Abernathy explained that changes have been made to parking requirements for multi-family developments, a new housing category has been created to account for du-, tri-, and quad-plexes, reduced fees for permitting, and a more streamlined process for FAR bonuses.
Multi- Family Housing Development
The conversation then turned to the development of affordable housing. Shawn Wilson gave the developers perspective on the state of affordable housing in St. Pete. Wilson explained that developers need political support to see a project through to completion, in many cases due to the zoning and land use changes that are necessary and the “not in my backyard” mentality that makes those changes complex. Wilson also mentioned the high costs involved with development and explained the necessity for reduced land costs to make units more affordable.
One way to reduce costs is for the government to subsidize the projects. There are several tools cities use to help fund these affordable housing initiatives including density bonuses, linkage fees, document fees and dedicated funding from general revenues. The Chamber has proposed the creation of an Affordable Housing Fund via referendum. This fund would be protected from being used for purposes that are not related to affordable housing. The Chamber has also proposed that the City Council dedicate a percentage of incremental tax revenues to add to the other funding sources currently being utilized instead of instituting a linkage fee on development.
Councilwoman Rice recently proposed an interesting solution that involves a millage increase. She explained her desire to explore a potential referendum that would apply a millage increase to new development starting in 2020. Rice also explained that it may take a few tools, including linkage fees, to raise the funds necessary to fully address the shortage of affordable units.
Affordable Single- Family Housing Development
Lastly, we heard from one of our community’s leading nonprofits about how affordable single-family homes are developed in Pinellas and Pasco counties, and the St. Petersburg communities.
Mike Sutton from Habitat for Humanity was asked to talk about their process and some of the hurdles his organization faces when trying to build in St. Pete. Sutton explained that it costs them $8,000-$15,000 more to build in St. Pete than elsewhere in the county due zoning requirements. Couple that with the increased land costs and it makes building these units almost prohibitively expensive.
Sutton and his staff have been working with Liz Abernathy and the City of St. Petersburg to address these hurdles and they have been very open to finding solutions.
The floor was then opened to questions from the audience. Question topics ranged from permitting fees and community organizing to inclusionary zoning and how zoning is connected to the Complete Streets plan.
If you would like to hear the entire conversation, please visit here for a video of the event.
Thank you to our great panelists, our presenting sponsor Duke Energy, and to Sea Salt for hosting us.
Stay tuned for the next Now Trending in June.