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Palm Coast Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020 7 months ago

To spur affordable home construction, county looks at fee reductions, 'creative solutions'

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Possibilities include providing incentives, cutting red-tape and allowing tiny-home communities.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

As executive officer of the Flagler Home Builders Association, Annamaria Abad is the face of the residential construction industry in Flagler County. 

But she's also the face of something else, she said in a County Commission meeting Aug. 17: The need for affordable housing. 

"Our teachers, our public safety people, our court people, our services that we get everyday, our restaurants — all of those folks have to have housing."

 

— JERRY CAMERON, county administrator

There's a stereotype of the sort of people who need affordable housing, she told county commissioners. "Change it," she said. She pointed at herself. "This is it. This is the face that you should see when you think of affordable housing."

Abad now owns her own home in Flagler, she said: She was able to purchase a house next door to her parents' house from a family friend for a good price. 

But before then, she'd spent five years living with her parents, and had needed government assistance for herself and her young daughter — even as a college-educated professional.

"I didn’t choose my circumstances," she said. "I did choose what to make of them, and that’s how I stand here before you today. But if I didn't have my parents here, and now my neighbors, I wouldn't have been able to do that."

She added, "We’re college graduates. We’re contributors to this community. So you can choose to look at me ask someone who’s on assistance, or a community leader. I’m both."

Abad, a graduate of the University of North Florida and Flagler Palm Coast High School, was speaking to address a proposal by the county administration to entice builders to construct more affordable homes. The county, County Administrator Jerry Cameron said, could reduce builders' "soft costs" in fees and other expenses in return for housing that's priced to meet the needs of working people.

"The need for affordable workforce housing, supportive housing, is huge. The resources to deal with that are minuscule in government," he said. "The pool of capital that’s necessary to address this particular critical issue ... is the private sector."

The county's Health and Human Services Department has been working on proposals to help direct the private sector's energies to that problem, he said. 

"The amounts that we’re seeing people paying for rent are just unbelievable: $1,750, $1,800, mortgages at $2,200."

 

— JOYCE BISHOP, director, Flagler County Health and Human Services

"Our teachers, our public safety people, our court people, our services that we get everyday, our restaurants — all of those folks have to have housing," he said, "and when the market has moved to middle and upper income housing, it is very difficult to find housing for lower middle, lower income and no income people."

Joyce Bishop, the county's Health and Human Services director, said that county staff have been getting a good look lately at what people are spending on housing because, with COVID-219, so many people are applying for assistance. 

"The amounts that we’re seeing people paying for rent are just unbelievable: $1,750, $1,800, mortgages at $2,200," she said. 

The best longterm options, she said, seem to involve removing some regulatory burdens and providing incentives, while requiring developers to agree to certain price points for sales and rentals, limiting rent increases to the Consumer Price Index, and requiring encumbered deeds to prevent people from buying homes with the purpose of quickly "flipping" them for a profit. 

Affordable Housing Advisory Committee Chair Sandra Shank suggested that a community land trust would also be one way to protect affordability. 

Commissioner Donald O'Brien asked if the proposal would address both single-family and multifamily housing. Cameron said it would.

O'Brien said that there's a stigma against multifamily, but also potential benefits.

"The reality is, we probably can get more efficiency from the multifamily housing side, and there would probably be more investors willing to do that," he said.

Abad urged commissioners to consider the county's own staff members.

"I want you to think about where your employees go home at night," she said. "Is it here in Flagler? Because I know a lot of employees here in Flagler have to go somewhere else at night to go home to live because that's what they can afford. And if those people do live here, could they survive one week without pay? That's a real question, and it's real for many people." 

The next step in the process, Cameron said, will involve staff creating an ordinance that would go before the County Commission for approval. 

"It would open the door to some creative solutions, whether they be tiny-house communities or other creative solutions," he said. "We would have more opportunity. ... It would open the door to a lot more creativity."

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