South Florida leaders want state dollars for apartments to ease affordable housing crisis
With no land left to build housing in South Florida, the region's mayors and other top county officials want their Tallahassee lobbyists to push state legislators to fund more apartment buildings rather than boosting single-family homeownership.
That was the consensus at a meeting Friday of top county officials who crafted a list of priorities for the Legislature help alleviate the region's crisis in affordable housing. The event in Hollywood was hosted by the South Florida Regional Planning Council.
The counties have each dedicated millions of dollars of their annual budget towards funding affordable housing projects as South Florida has become one of the most unaffordable places to live in the country.
The median monthly rent for an apartment or home in South Florida was $2,511, according to the latest data from the National Association of Realtors. That’s the seventh−highest among U.S. metro areas. The data covers the metro areas of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, and includes up to two bedrooms. About 44% of Monroe County residents pay 30% or more of their income on rent or a mortgage, according to the Federal Reserve, which tracks "cost-burdened" households nationwide.
"I think we need to concentrate our efforts on things that have the best chance of passage," Steve Geller, a Broward County Commissioner who chairs the council, told the group.
The SHIP Program
Officials say amending the State Housing Initiatives Partnership Program would allow them to build affordable housing for more people.
The program currently helps counties finance affordable housing, but limits how much can go towards each type of housing. Most of that money — at least 65% — is required to go toward homeownership as opposed to rental housing. That means more single-family housing.
“We need to change the formula so that the counties that are built-out and need to use more funding for multi-family homes can do that,” said Broward County Vice-Mayor Nan Rich.
She suggested a split, so that 50% of the funding could be spent on single-family homes and the other half on multi-family buildings like apartment complexes.
It’s a problem that is largely unique to South Florida which is why county leaders want their lobbyists to jointly push lawmakers to revise the program. Counties would be able to opt-in to the new split if they wanted or choose to stick to the old split, under the proposal.
"So if a county wants that flexibility, they can use it. If not, they can they stay where they're at," said Palm Beach County Mayor Gregg Weiss. "I'm hopeful that's achievable."
The Legislature made affordable housing a top priority earlier this year when it passed the Live Local Act. It provides incentives for investment in affordable housing and encourages mixed-use developments in struggling commercial areas. It also bars local rent controls and pre-empts local government rules on zoning, density and building heights in certain circumstances.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law on July 29.
With little land left to build on, the only way to build is up, say officials.
According to an Affordable Housing Needs Assessment report done by the FIU Metropolitan Center in 2022, the most significant increase in housing units in Broward from 2017 to 2020 was multi-family structures of 20 or more units. Still, rental occupied units make up about 40% of Broward county households, according to the report
"Real estate is just not there so you have to go vertical and you have to create opportunities to build even higher to accommodate affordability," said Broward County Mayor Lamar Fisher.
According to census data, the four counties make up nearly 28 percent of the state’s population.
“The strength is in numbers, and the more we have in the same message, the better off they're going to listen up in Tallahassee,” said Fisher.