(Source: By Andy Reid, Sun Sentinel (MCT) Palm Beach County’s controversial “workforce housing” building rules are finally producing the first reduced-price homes — six years after a once-skyrocketing real estate market started to go bust.
In 2006, amid South Florida’s building boom, Palm Beach County became one of the first in Florida to require a portion of houses, townhomes and apartments in new developments to include long-term price controls.
The goal was to increase the inventory of homes available to teachers, police officers, young professionals and other low- to middle-income residents who were often priced out of Palm Beach County’s housing market.
But when the building boom fizzled, so did the expected construction of workforce housing.
Since 2006, the county has approved development plans for more than 1,500 reduced-price homes under the workforce housing program. But none of the price-controlled houses have been built and only 168 of the reduced-rent apartments are on the market or are under construction.
The first of those workforce housing homes can be found at the newly opened Wellington Club apartments on State Road 7, north of Lantana Road. More than half of the apartments at the new complex includes rents capped by the workforce housing program.
A dozen more reduced-rate apartment homes are expected to be available for lease before the end of the year with the expected completion of the Colonial Lakes Apartments on Lake Worth Boulevard near Greenacres.
“It has taken time,” said Deputy County Administrator Verdenia Baker, who oversaw the creation of the workforce housing program. “It’s to our benefit to ensure that we have affordable workforce housing for our community so that we are a viable community.”
Developers, who have long opposed the workforce housing requirements, say the small number of homes created shows the ambitious program failed to deliver. They also contend that the price limits are creating a drag on getting building going again.
“I don’t think it’s really doing any good right now,” said Ray Puzzitiello, of the Florida Atlantic Building Association. “I don’t think it’s something that really makes sense.”
Developers aren’t the only critics.
Since 2006, the workforce housing requirement has become one of the top not-in-my-backyard arguments for residents who oppose new development proposals. Residents across the county have questioned how new reduced-price homes could affect their own home values amid a still-struggling housing market.
Housing advocates counter that the workforce housing program remains a valuable long-term tool for ensuring a place for middle-income buyers in Palm Beach County.
The approved workforce housing units will eventually be built when housing demand picks back up, supporters say.
Long-term price controls keep those workforce housing homes affordable long after the existing inventory of vacant of foreclosed homes in Palm Beach County gets sold, according to Jaimie Ross, president of the Florida Housing Coalition.
“The last thing you would want to do is to give up on a program like that,” Ross said.
Palm Beach County approved the workforce housing requirement back when the median home price hovered near $400,000. Not long afterward, the national economic decline began and home prices sunk. Palm Beach County’s average median home price in June was $225,000.
County officials in 2006 billed the workforce housing program as vital for local government and businesses alike, saying that skyrocketing home prices made it hard to keep and attract employees.
The program requires larger developments to limit the prices on about 16 percent of the homes built in urban and suburban areas. In return for holding down some home prices, developers get to build more homes than otherwise allowed.
The current allowable home sales prices for the workforce housing program can range from $134,610 to $249,990. Potential rents under the program can range from $814 per month for a one-bedroom home to $2,936 per month for a four-bedroom home.
Deed restrictions cap how much the sale prices for those homes can increase for seven to 15 years or more, depending on the type of development. Caps on potential increases in rental prices for workforce housing last 30 years.
Developers say they object to the workforce housing requirements because capping prices forces them to subsidize the county’s housing efforts.
Program supporters insist that developers’ profits far outweigh the cost of making room in neighborhoods for homes affordable to middle-income workers.
“This is the time to ensure that you have these [price] restrictions moving forward,” said Suzanne Cabrera, president of the Housing Leadership Council of Palm Beach County. “There’s room for everybody in housing everywhere.”
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©2012 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
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