When it comes to developing affordable housing, local developers say the government fees can be overwhelming.
“There’s not really a lot of wiggle room,” said Travis Vengroff, who with his father, Harvey, has transformed several motels into affordable housing.
But when affordable housing becomes available, hte waiting list grows quickly since demand far exceeds supply, Vengroff said. This has been the case with Robin’s Apartments, which is the former Knights Inn on First Street in Bradenton that they transformed into affordable housing.
“Robin’s Apartments is full,” Vengroff said. “All of our properties are full. Everyone has a waiting list at this point.”
When you are on razor thin budgets and margins trying to make affordable housing, any costs that can be assisted with is helpful.
Travis Vengroff, Robin’s Apartments
As they look to increase the number of units at Robin’s Apartments, Vengroff said they first have to ensure it makes sense financially. They are looking to build more than 100 affordable two-bedroom, duplex-style apartments on the five acres adjacent to the existing buildings.
“The fees are substantial,” Vengroff said of impact fees. “It can be overwhelming. When you are on razor-thin budgets and margins trying to make affordable housing, any costs that can be assisted with is helpful.”
Developers could soon receive financial incentives if they build affordable rental housing in Manatee County. The county commission was presented with the proposed workforce housing rental incentive program last week, and they still must approve it during a regular commission meeting.
“That would help keep the rents lower,” Vengroff said. “You are just looking at ways to keep rent lower.”
Under the workforce housing rental incentive program, developers would receive up to $500,000 per project if they develop affordable units in the Urban Service Area, which is made up of neighborhoods in unincorporated Bradenton. The county would pay up to 100 percent of impact fees and facility investment fees for utilities for the affordable units.
Currently, the county has $3 million available for incentives to build affordable single-family units. Now officials want to have multifamily units be eligible for the funds.
In six month, Vengroff said he will bring a plan to the Robin’s Apartments board of directors about what they can afford to do with the five acres.
“This would be very helpful in that discussion,” he said. “Impact fees came up in our discussion. If this could happen, it would definitely only help. It would be a very good use of money.”
County officials are optimistic that the proposed incentives would encourage developers to build affordable apartments.
“This incentive will help and definitely entice them,” said Geri Lopez, the county’s redevelopment and economic opportunity director. “I know this is definitely an incentive that will attract some of them.”
For every 100 extremely low-income households in the United States, there are only 29 affordable, adequate and available rental units, according to research done by the Urban Institute’s Assisted Housing Initiative.
“It turns out building affordable housing is not particularly affordable,” an institute report states. “In fact, there is a huge gap between what these buildings cost to construct and maintain, and the rents most people can pay. Without the help of too-scarce government subsidies for creating, preserving and operating affordable apartments, building these homes is often impossible.”
Unable to comment specifically on Manatee County’s proposed incentives, a housing expert based in Washington, D.C., said it’s almost certain the government won’t hit it exactly right at first.
“It’s less the recipes than it is the baking and the testing and the trying,” Rolf Pendall, co-director of Urban Institute’s Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center, said in an interview with the Bradenton Herald. “If you assume you are going to get the right recipe the first time, you are going to be disappointed.”
In most communities, the most common incentives used are increases in permitted densities and a fast-track approval process, Pendall said.
“Density is kind of easier to do,” he said. “You are just giving the developer more density. I don’t necessarily recommend only doing that.”
Pointing to previous research done in cities in Massachusetts and California, Pendall said it is important to continue to evolve and adapt the programs.
“You need to make a long-term commitment to get the inclusive housing that your community needs,” he said. “That is almost more important than the exact design from the start, from the first recipe that they are talking about. ... It’s a tool that we want to use to shape how development works. You get more skilled using the tool over time to get the result that you want.”
Proposed focus areas for housing in Manatee County
- Provide regulatory incentives
- Provide financial incentives
- Improve access to land
- Continue advocacy
- Create process improvements
- Promote opportunities/establish relationships
- Improve perception/awareness
Source: Manatee County presentation