Affordable housing recommendations given to county officials

MANATEE — With the housing market in a downturn, community leaders say this is the right time for Manatee County officials to move forward with an affordable housing plan.

County commissioners heard a report Tuesday from the citizen Affordable Housing Advisory Committee on recommendations to create better opportunities for developers to build homes for low- to moderate-income families.

Committee Chairman David Wick said after the meeting even though the housing market is currently in a slump, now is the time to have a plan in place for when it is needed.

“The affordable housing crisis is not as pressing as it was a few years ago,” Wick said, “but the need will be there in the future.”

Wick said most of the recommendations deal with comprehensive plan changes that would make it more economical for developers to build affordable housing.

The committee of 11 community leaders met several times since its appointment in April and established 13 recommendations that the commission has to take action on within 90 days.

Denise Thomas, the housing and community development coordinator for the county Neighborhood Services Department, asked the commission to set up a workshop meeting in January to discuss incorporating the affordable housing incentives into the Local Housing Assistance Plan.

The Local Housing Assistance Plan, established in 1994, outlines how the county spends State Housing Initiative Partnership or SHIP funds.

Thomas said the county was allocated $2.2 million to assist low- and moderate-income homebuyers with rehabilitation, replacement, down-payments, purchase counseling, closing costs and incentives to developers.

The committee developed recommendations dealing with some of those incentives, such as processing building permits for affordable housing projects, modifying impact-fees, and a reduction in parking and setback requirements.

Wick said the county has to review these issues to create more affordable housing opportunities.

“Many of the recommendations deal with in-fill lots,” said Wick, who also is a member of the county planning commission.

“Why would you need a retention pond for a couple of lots in a neighborhood where they never had a flooding issue?”

The committee also recommended promoting development of affordable housing near transportation hubs.

This can be done with the creation of “Encouragement Zones proximate to transportation hub and employment center areas, wherein affordable housing projects shall be guaranteed to receive increased density approval and impact fee relief,” the report stated.

The recommendations included the fostering of more mixed use areas, where people live close to where the work.

County Commissioner Ron Getman said he was pleased to see the report included these type of issues.

“Affordable housing needs to be near transportation stops and (within walking) distances to shopping and work,” Getman said.