8,000 pur­su­ing 201 apart­ments

Glut il­lus­trates Cen­tral Florida’s af­ford­able hous­ing quandry; of­fi­cials seek op­tions

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Mary Shanklin

Or­lando’s Pen­dana at West Lakes mixed-in­come apart­ments have de­buted with 8,000 prospec­tive ten­ants in­quir­ing about 201 units, some of which rent for less than half of the go­ing mar­ket rate.

The num­ber of ap­pli­cants for the new de­vel­op­ment near Camp­ing World Sta­dium un­der­scores Or­lando’s rank­ing as one of the coun­try’s tough­est hous­ing mar­kets for the low­est-in­come renters, re­ported the Na­tional Low In­come Hous­ing Coali­tion. Metro Or­lando’s gap be­tween wages and hous­ing costs hurt the re­gion’s at­trac­tive­ness as a place to live, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port by U.S. News & World Re­port that ranked Metro Or­lando 78th.

“I hope and pray peo­ple see the de­mand,” said Or­lando renter Anita Mou­ton, who added that she is on a wait­ing list, hop­ing Pen­dana units will open later in the year. “What are they wait­ing on to cre­ate more of these? You need these in this community. This is a low-bud­get city.”

In search of hous­ing so­lu­tions, more than 100 Cen­tral Florida of­fi­cials and hous­ing ex­ec­u­tives last week fi­nal­ized a se­ries of re­gional hous­ing work­shops Or-

ange County or­ga­nized. Up­com­ing rec­om­men­da­tions are likely to in­clude adding new home-con­struc­tion taxes, ex­pand­ing the types of hous­ing al­lowed in neigh­bor­hoods, carv­ing out land trusts to lower costs and re­quir­ing some af­ford­able res­i­dences in typ­i­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

De­vel­op­ers and builders have ob­jected to driv­ing up costs but the var­i­ous hous­ing groups all agree that Florida law­mak­ers should stop raid­ing state funds ear­marked for af­ford­able hous­ing.

Last month, the Leg­is­la­ture bucked its own task­force rec­om­men­da­tions by di­vert­ing $185 mil­lion from hous­ing trust funds to spend on school safety.

That left just $109 mil­lion be­hind for down-pay­ment pro­grams, rental as­sis­tance, se­nior hous­ing aid and other pro­grams. It was the 11th con­sec­u­tive year leg­is­la­tors dipped into hous­ing funds to pay for other needs.

“Florida is one of the few states with the se­ta­side to fund af­ford­able hous­ing and the Leg­is­la­ture is choos­ing to fun­nel it to other places . ... ” said Sandy Hostet­ter, Cen­tral Florida pres­i­dent of Val­ley Na­tional Bank. The lender helped fi­nance the $40 mil­lion Pen­dana project.

Leg­is­la­tion to pro­tect the hous­ing funds died in an ap­pro­pri­a­tions com­mit­tee that in­cluded Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Repub­li­can who rep­re­sents parts of south Lake County.

She did not re­spond to phone calls.

At Pen­dana on a re­cent week­day morn­ing, ap­pli­cants lined up out­side the door to the leas­ing of­fice. The pri­vate-pub­lic part­ner­ship is able to of­fer be­low-mar­ket rents there be­cause the non­profit Lift Or­lando group lev­er­aged do­nated land, tax cred­its and other tools. Some units are rented out based on the ten­ants’ in­come — as lit­tle as 30 per­cent of res­i­dents’ in­come on se­lect

Pos­si­bly thou­sands of res­i­dents pay about $1,200 a month to live in old ho­tels along U.S. High­way 192, said Su­san Caswell, the as­sis­tant community de­vel­op­ment ad­min­is­tra­tor for Osce­ola.

units. Other units are priced start­ing at $593 a month and mar­ket-rate units start at $850.

But cre­at­ing an­other Pen­dana has be­come less likely be­cause state and fed­eral spend­ing isn’t pri­or­i­tiz­ing it, Hostet­ter said.

The prob­lem is par­tic­u­larly acute in Osce­ola County, which has sought so­lu­tions to house its grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of work­ing-class res­i­dents.

Pos­si­bly thou­sands of res­i­dents pay about $1,200 a month to live in old ho­tels along U.S. High­way 192, said Su­san Caswell, the as­sis­tant community de­vel­op­ment ad­min­is­tra­tor for Osce­ola, and lack the de­posits and other up­front fees for bet­ter hous­ing.

To push af­ford­able liv­ing, the county has ex­pe­dited build­ing per­mits, part­nered on down-pay­ment as­sis­tance pro­grams and al­lowed de­fer­ral or sub­si­dies of im­pact fees.

Un­like some other coun­ties, it also em­braces renters liv­ing in garage apart­ments.

Caswell said Osce­ola may soon con­sider charg­ing im­pact fees based on the size of a house rather than the num­ber of be­d­rooms in an ef­fort to en­cour­age smaller houses.

Builders are con­struct­ing three- and four-bed­room houses when smaller and more af­ford­able homes are needed the most in a county with av­er­age wages of $33,000, she said.

“We have made pro­duc­tion eas­ier, quicker and less ex­pen­sive, but our fun­da­men­tal is­sue is that our builders are build­ing a type of hous­ing that does not meet a need,” Caswell added.

But pro­duc­tion home builders say they are de­liv­er­ing what the mar­ket de­mands with an eye to mak­ing a profit.

“We serve the mar­ket. We don’t con­trol it,” said Alex Martin, di­vi­sion pres­i­dent for Mat­tamy Homes. “I build what I’m told. I serve the reg­u­la­tors and the buy­ers.”

At­lantic Hous­ing Part­ners Prin­ci­pal Scott Culp said Osce­ola’s re­cent hike in res­i­den­tial con­struc­tion taxes called im­pact fees has forced his com­pany to ques­tion whether it can af­ford to build there.

Lo­cal gov­ern­ments should in­stead call for a por­tion of hous­ing to be af­ford­ably priced in new neigh­bor­hoods such as Lake Nona the way Or­lando re­quired it for Creative Vil­lage just west of down­town, he said.

Funds “would go much fur­ther and you need to re­quire it ev­ery­where,” he said.

One of the state’s lead­ing advocates for af­ford­able hous­ing, Florida Hous­ing Coali­tion Pres­i­dent Jaimie Ross said lo­cal gov­ern­ments might need to guard against los­ing ex­ist­ing af­ford­able com­plexes.

De­vel­op­ers of those projects had to of­fer re­duced rents — for a lim­ited time — in ex­change for get­ting up-front con­struc­tion funds through the sale of fed­eral tax cred­its. She warned that new po­lit­i­cal pres­sures from de­vel­op­ers to fur­ther limit the time those projects must of­fer lower rents have mounted.

“We need to make sure we don’t lose the hous­ing we have cre­ated,” she said.

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