New law to boost affordable housing irks local public officials

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A new law is supposed to boost affordable housing. South Florida cities are furious

The Florida Legislature was widely praised this year when it passed sweeping legislation designed to supercharge construction of affordable housing by directing hundreds of millions of dollars in low-interest loans and big tax breaks to developers.

But in the early days of implementation in South Florida, the Live Local Act is running into significant roadblocks because of another, less-publicized feature of the law that went into effect July 1: Provisions that override local zoning controls on building height and density.

The idea is to allow developers to build big in exchange for setting aside apartments in mixed residential and commercial projects at lower rents for people who meet certain income criteria. The new law, touted as a bold and comprehensive attempt to tackle Florida’s crippling housing crisis, requires cities and counties to approve the projects without hearings where elected officials could seek public input and discuss and vote on the proposals, even if they dramatically violate existing height and density restrictions.

Critics question whether the state law really will help people struggling the most to afford soaring apartment rents and home sale prices that became South Florida’s hallmark during the pandemic. Most controversially, the Live Local Act bars local authorities from enacting rent controls as Orange County voters did last year. Housing advocates had called for such controls to calm down the frenetic Miami-Dade housing market.

What’s more, the language of the law appears intended to entice real estate developers who typically build market-rate projects to build housing, rather than give experienced affordable homebuilders new incentives to get more homes built.

In at least two local cities, Doral and Hollywood, developers have cited the new law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, in publicly floating supersized plans for high-rise residential and commercial developments that would far exceed anything around them in height, scale and density.

Oasis Doral would be a 17-acre residential and commercial project at a major intersection backing up to a pair of longstanding developments of modest two-story townhomes Villas of Amberwood surrounding a golf course called Costa del Sol.

In Hollywood along the beachfront Broadwalk, a group of motels would be replaced with an 18-story condo and apartment tower complex, a three-story beach club and restaurant facing the pedestrian promenade.

The proposals though not yet formally submitted to local officials for review and approval, have rapidly drawn heated pushback in both cities from residents, property owners and public officials. Elected officials in Doral and Hollywood are frustrated that the state law appears to render them powerless to address community concerns or to plan for the effects on established neighborhoods from the oversized scale of the contemplated new projects.

In both cities, officials say they’re applying the brakes to considering developers’ applications under the law for real estate projects including affordable homes — possibly in violation of the statute — while they sort out its implications and press state legislators to clarify or revise the law’s zoning clauses. That official posture represents a rare public resistance to the Legislature’s increasing tendency to approve developer-friendly laws that gut local zoning, environmental and tenant protections in a practice called “preemption.”