Affordable housing requires community’s full attention
Please allow me to introduce a few people: Phillip, a recent graduate of Leesburg High
School who is working two jobs while nearly finishing a fouryear degree at Lake Sumter State College-UCF; Maggy, retired, has recently moved to the Clermont area from Michigan; and Bill, a native Floridian living in south Lake County.
Phillip, Maggy, and Bill are real people but with fictitious names whom I have met this past year through my association as liaison to Lake County’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee.
Affordable housing is an issue to Phillip, but what about Maggy and Bill? Bill like many of us, laments the rapid growth and urban sprawl that characterizes entire swaths of Florida. Maggy worked hard and is now enjoying a well-deserved retirement replete with a lower cost of living and healthcare compared to most other places around the country.
Fully understanding the discussion in our community around the affordable housing issue is sort of like trying to fully understand a soap opera or some Netflix series — you have to watch from beginning to end.
While many of us may choose to completely ignore a soap opera or streaming service series, some watch an entire series forming various opinions and perspectives. Others may tune in and watch sporadically forming a different set of opinions or choosing to ignore the show all together. No harm, no foul when it comes to following or how you follow a fictional TV series.
However, the affordable housing issue is real life with consequences to people in our community. I bet just by saying “affordable housing” I’ve turned off some people or perhaps some don’t believe it’s an issue that affects them — it’s not worth tuning in.
But affordable housing is well worth the time for all of us in Lake County to tune in, engage, listen, and understand. The economics behind the rising cost and availability of housing is complex including the cost of building materials, labor shortages, regulations, and banking. For purposes of this opinion piece, let’s assume that due to 1,000 people a day moving to Florida, housing supply in our community has been outpaced by demand.
In Lake County, we can take the following immediate policy steps to assist in creating an environment where supply more closely meets demand.
First, the County should permit and promote the use of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) for housing. ADUs are perfect for those of us who don’t want to move to an Assisted Living Center or an “old folks’ home” and who want to age in place, alongside their family. In this scenario, an ADU would allow the principal house structure to be used by a retired couple’s children — benefiting people like Phillip and Maggy.
Second, develop zoning that permits tiny homes, especially small homes built in place and not just on a trailer. Currently, Lake County zoning prohibits tiny homes with the exception of some trailer parks.
Third, dare I say it, the D-word — density. It seems counter-intuitive, but we are going to have to allow SOME higherdensity development along our major corridors like Highway 50, Highway 27 and U.S. 441. If we don’t, it just means people like Phillip will move further and further out into rural and suburban Lake County to find a home they can afford, thereby spending almost 70 percent of their income on housing and transportation alone, while contributing to the over development that Bill has noticed and regularly complains about.
Lake County epitomizes the “Drive until you Qualify” paradox that promotes rural sprawl all over Florida. Good planning can promote lower-cost, high-quality housing options for people like Phillip, who want to be closer to work.
Finally, in some cases, like construction of ADUs, urban infill, and tiny home projects, the county needs to reduce or eliminate some impact fees to reduce the cost of construction. Additionally, the county, in cooperation with the cities, should actively seek public-private partnerships that strategically place work-force housing units within mixed-use districts of our cities and county. This can be catalyzed through incentives.
I encourage everyone to participate in the discussion and learn all sides of the affordable housing issue. Perceptions must change as doing nothing will only result in more of the same. In Lake County, that means more urban sprawl and a steady increase in the cost of everyday items like lunch at a downtown restaurant to healthcare in our local doctors’ offices and hospitals.