Af­ford­able hous­ing re­quires com­mu­nity’s full at­ten­tion

Orlando Sentinel - - OPINION - By Sean Parks

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.

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