The Disconnect Between Policy and Affordable Housing

Guest Correspondence

Zoning codes and bureaucratic processes directly impact affordable housing. Affordable Housing continues to be on the tip of the tongue for all governments, but rarely is a breath of it mentioned when we are looking at changing or adding new codes affecting all housing. 

Most governments recognize we have an affordable housing problem and it is affecting their citizens and employees here in Sarasota County. One third of our households are barely staying afloat financially according to the United Way’s ALICE report.

However, we don’t hear affordable housing being talked about when decisions are made for new regulations or taxes. We don’t hear how that regulation will affect housing costs, which directly impedes affordable housing. How much in costs are governments adding to housing? 

There appears to be a massive policy disconnect between the cost of doing business in terms of government regulation and how it affects the housing market and this incredible priority.

In an article from Strong Towns by Spencer Gardner called, “The 5 Immutable Laws of Affordable Housing,” the first law of affordable housing deals with the reality of who actually pays for construction and permitting. Here is a hint: it’s not the developer. “A developer who doesn’t pass costs on will not be in business for very long. For this reason, anything that makes development more costly for developers makes housing more costly for people.” 

This article acknowledges that the more a government mandates, it gets back less in terms of affordable housing.

Almost every municipal and county government here is looking at their zoning code right now. Many of those reviews are long overdue. They are unique opportunities to positively affect affordable housing. Unfortunately, nowhere are there financial impacts to the private sector listed with the recommendations generated from staff for code changes. 

Enacting a new tree ordinance? How much will it cost the property owner per tree for all aspects of the ordinance? Enacting a new setback requirement? How will that affect density and housing costs? Requiring more workshops, public hearings and reviews? How much will that cost a property owner in terms of time and having to hire professional services?

If governments were truly concerned with affordable housing, every single time they changed or enacted a new code or process, they would ask for the total private costs of such a change accompany the staff proposal. It would be an automatic portion of the information they receive when considering any tax, change to zoning codes, or change to processes leading to building.

Without considering this information, any expressed concern or label of a “priority” when it comes to affordable housing from an elected official is purely lip service.

Christine Robinson is executive director of The Argus Foundation.

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