Mandating affordable housing units in new market-priced developments a necessity for lessening severity of housing crisis, City Commission hears

Thaxton provides recommendations from Affordable Housing Advisory Committee that comprises city and county appointees

Cindy Emshoff and Jon Thaxton appear before the City Commission on Dec. 4. News Leader image

Although the Sarasota City Commission has approved many steps to facilitate the construction of affordable housing units, inclusionary zoning is a major key to resolving the crisis, Jon Thaxton, senior vice president of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, which is based in Venice, told the commissioners during their regular meeting on Dec. 4.

Thaxton formally was present to provide the board members a report on the 2023 recommendations of the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, which he chairs.

Thaxton cited two reasons “that the affordable housing crisis has become so severe.”

First, he said, is the increase in cost of land, materials and permitting for the construction of such units. “It has risen tremendously.”

At the same time, Thaxton continued, “Wages have been stagnant.”

Second, he pointed out, so much luxury housing is being built in gated communities, including condominiums, with marketing about “concierge services, great restaurants, and all these other things that require a service workforce to accommodate those demands.”

Thus, he said, many more people need affordable housing to be able to provide those services.

Then Thaxton explained that when mandatory inclusionary zoning is in effect in a local government’s regulations, if a developer requests a rezoning of property or another land-use change that is going to increase the number of market-priced homes that will heighten the demand for affordable housing units, then the developer “must accommodate that demand.”

He likened mandatory inclusionary zoning to the use of impact fees, which are paid by developers to help cover the expenses of new local government infrastructure — such as roads and utility pipelines — to serve the new residential communities.

“The development cannot exacerbate the existing affordable housing deficiency,” Thaxton added, in regard to mandatory inclusionary zoning.

State law does provide guidance for local governments to use such zoning measures, he pointed out.

The state’s new Live Local Act went into effect on July 1. Section 125.0103(3) of that ordnance says, “[M]unicipalities, counties, or other entities of local government may adopt and maintain in effect any law, ordinance, rule, or other measure which is adopted for the purposes of increasing the supply of affordable housing using land use mechanisms such as inclusionary housing ordinances.”

In response to a question from Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch, Thaxton said, “I think the state statute is very clear.” It allows all cities and counties to use mandatory inclusionary zoning “without repercussions,” he added.

That law, Thaxton told the commissioners, “appears as if it’s perfectly legal … to at least curb the demand side of the equation.”
Then he emphasized, “We’re creating affordable housing supply by the hundreds, and we’re creating demand by the thousands.”

Cindy Emshoff, general manager of the Office of Housing and Community Development in Sarasota, pointed out, “The city already is making reference to utilizing inclusionary zoning options that are consistent with state law.” She noted the zoning text amendments that the commissioners approved earlier this year that provide details about how developers can construct more units in new buildings if they provide affordable housing.

The formal committee report

The Agenda Request Form for the Dec. 4 presentation explained that Section 420.9076 of the Florida Statutes “requires local governments that receive State Housing Initiatives Partnership Program (SHIP) funds to create an Affordable Housing Advisory Committee … for the purpose of submitting a report to the local governing body that includes recommendations on local housing incentive strategies.”

The form also noted that, on May 2, 2022, the City Commission approved an interlocal agreement with the Sarasota County Commission to create a joint committee on affordable housing.

Then the form pointed out, “The State requires the Committee to review the established policies and procedures, ordinances, land development regulations, and adopted local government comprehensive plan of the appointing local government and recommend specific actions or initiatives to encourage or facilitate affordable housing while protecting the ability of the property to appreciate in value.”

During the beginning of Emshoff and Thaxton’s presentation, Emshoff showed the city commissioners slides to illustrate examples of how the SHIP funding helps residents.

“One of the most common strategies that OHCD [the Office of Housing and Community Development] offers, Emshoff said, “is that of home rehab. The goal is to keep homeowners stably in a sanitary environment.”

This slide shows before and after photos of a home that has been rehabilitated. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

A 0%, 30-year loan is used for such work, she added. “We have helped 82 low-income households,” Emshoff noted, pointing out that by low-income she was referring to households making 80% or less of the Area Median Income (AMI) of the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), as set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This year, 80% of the AMI for a family of four is $73,100.

“The funds are used throughout Sarasota County,” Emshoff said.

Another initiative, she continued, is the Essential Repair Program, which assists with projects such as adding new roofs, new air-conditioning systems, plumbing and electrical panels. The OHCD also offers a Utility Connection Program, she noted.

Further, SHIP makes funding available to nonprofit developers, she said, so they can purchase old homes or land. Then, new construction or renovations can begin. As an example, she showed the commissioners a photo from a new Habitat for Humanity affordable housing gated community, which is the first of its kind in Sarasota. “We’re very excited about that,” she added.

This is a photo showing construction in the new gated Habitat for Humanity community. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

During his remarks, Thaxton explained that affordable housing is defined as residential units that can be maintained without the household’s having to spend more than 30% of its income. “It’s a very simple but elegant definition.”

The market, he continued, does a very good job of providing housing at the higher end of pricing, but not so well in regard to the lower end.

The Affordable Housing Advisory Committee (AHAC) combines both city and county representatives, he also pointed out, calling that situation “a fantastic idea for intergovernmental communications.” The committee’s recommendations this year are as follows:

  • “1. The processing of approvals of development orders or permits for affordable housing projects is expedited to a greater degree than other projects.”
  • “2. The modification of impact-fee requirements, including reduction or waiver of fees and alternative methods of fee payment for affordable housing.”
  • “3. The allowance of flexibility in densities for affordable housing;
  • “4. The reservation of infrastructure capacity for housing for very-low-income persons, low-income persons, and moderate-income persons.” Thaxton did explain that the AHAC ended up scratching that one, as “The state has functionally gutted any concurrency requirements of growth.” He was referring to prior state regulations that called for developers to have to pay a proportionate share of the expense of new roads and utility lines, for examples, for housing they create.
  • “5. The allowance of affordable accessory residential units in residential zoning districts.
  • “6. The reduction of parking and setback requirements for affordable housing.
  • “7. The allowance of flexible lot configurations, including zero-lot-line configurations for affordable housing.
  • “8. The modification of street requirements for affordable housing.
  • “9. The establishment of a process by which a local government considers, before adoption, policies, procedures, ordinances, regulations, or plan provisions that increase the cost of housing.
  • “10. The preparation of a printed inventory of locally owned public lands suitable for affordable housing.
  • “11. The support of development near transportation hubs and major employment centers and mixed-use developments.”

The city already has taken all of those steps, Thaxton noted. Yet, he added, “It’s clear [the affordable housing situation] is still getting worse. … We need to be doing more.”

Then he reported that the AHAC offered a 12 recommendation — the use of mandatory inclusionary zoning.

In the meantime, Thaxton said, “Your most important duty, your most important action moving forward, is going to be monitoring,” to ensure that all of the steps the City Commission has approved are being followed. Putting policies in place, he stressed, “is not going to create affordable housing.” He called for “doubling down on the policies that are working and addressing those that are not.”

At the conclusion of the presentation, Commissioner Debbie Trice made a motion calling for the board members to accept the AHAC’s local housing incentive strategies and to authorize city staff to submit them in a report — as required — to the Florida Housing Finance Corp.

Commissioner Kyle Battie seconded it, and the motion passed unanimously.

Just before the vote, Commissioner Erik Arroyo — who was participating in the discussion via virtual technology because of what he referred to as health issues — commended Thaxton for all of his efforts to improve the affordable housing situation in the community. “Mr. Thaxton is doing a phenomenal job … and [is] definitely one of our go-to people,” Arroyo added.

1 thought on “Mandating affordable housing units in new market-priced developments a necessity for lessening severity of housing crisis, City Commission hears”

  1. Kudos to Joh Thaxton for his important work on this and to the City of Sarasota – for at least beginning to work on this.

    Now, how can we get the County of Sarasota to do something?

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