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Florida's new affordable housing law wrestles control from local leaders

The Villa Maria affordable housing building in Miami Beach
Jenny Staletovich
The Villa Maria affordable housing building in Miami Beach

The Live Local Act is a new Florida law that was designed to increase affordable housing development.

The nearly 100-page piece of legislation allocates up to $811 million for affordable housing programs. It also carves out a variety of tax incentives, land-use policies and other strategic initiatives to encourage developers to build more affordable housing in the state.

READ MORE: Florida passed historic pro-housing legislation. Here's what you need to know

Among them is a provision that modifies the approval process for new housing developments by requiring local governments to relinquish control of several zoning and land-use regulations.

Florida Housing Coalition's legal director Kody Glazer said that despite the good intentions of legislators who passed the law, the new rules have been met with hesitancy from local leaders.

"I think the hesitancy comes with the fact that it's a preemption. I think whenever we're talking about home rule or preemption, there's always going to be local push back," Glazer said.

Under the new rules, local officials are preempted from weighing in on zoning, density and height restrictions for eligible developments. 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.

In July, the city councils of Tampa and St. Petersburg were briefed by staff about their remaining rights under the new housing and development rules.

While hesitant, St. Petersburg officials began conversations to determine a process for developers who want to apply for projects in the city under the Live Local Act. The city has already heard interest from "ready to build" developers in recent weeks, according to a Tampa Bay Business Journal report.

In the City of Tampa, initial conversations with staff weren't as smooth.

During a July 13 meeting, back-and-forth between council members and city staff hinged on what compliance with the state law should look like.

"The state is going to just gonna keep taking and taking and taking -- and I'm not willing to give an inch more than I'm required to," council member Lynn Hurtak said before introducing a motion that city staff "only implement required portions" of the law until the next regular meeting.

The motion passed, as did a motion to review a staff report on Sept. 7 on how other local governments are interpreting the Live Local Act.

“The spirit of the law is to accelerate development and to help affordable housing development through an administrative process that is less cumbersome in time, going through that four-month-long zoning process,” economic development director Nicole Travis said.

While sympathetic to council members' frustrations, Travis clarified that despite their feelings about the Live Local Act, the new housing rules make the approval process of eligible affordable housing projects a solely administrative function that can circumvent city council.

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Gabriella Paul
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