Jupiter officials: Apartment still failing to comply with affordable housing rule
Posted Oct 29, 2018 at 4:05 PM Updated Nov 2, 2018 at 8:57 PM
JUPITER – Builders in Palm Beach County increasingly promise affordable “workforce housing” for teachers, police and other employees to get projects approved or building limits eased.
But Jupiter’s first extended whirl with the concept has produced continuing clashes over how to set rents, with town officials maintaining residents have been overpaying by hundreds of dollars a month in some cases.
Town officials have calculated overcharges of more than 50 tenants by up to $421 a month over a year ending in May at Barcelona Jupiter apartments along Military Trail. An email from the town’s principal planner David Kemp to building representatives referred to “continuing non-compliance” in September. An Oct. 29 letter from town attorney Tom Baird to the landlord’s attorney defends Jupiter’s position as “legally correct” as well as “practical and logical.”
Apartment owners disagree, noting that a proposed fine of $150,000 was reduced by a magistrate to $11,250 over the summer.
“The property is in compliance,” said Benjamin E. Olive. attorney for building owners 207 Florida Realty Associates LLC and 217 Florida Realty Associates LLC. Maurice Mann in Fort Lauderdale is listed as the manager of both companies in state corporate records.
Workforce housing represents an attempt to address one of the most common complaints in Palm Beach County: People on regular working salaries find it increasingly difficult to live near where they work, particularly in the region’s more affluent communities. Home prices and rents have been on a steady march higher in the county, but wage increases have lagged, even with the jobless rate at a rock-bottom low.
In response, local governments have relaxed building limits in certain cases where developers agree to set aside a certain number of units for workforce housing.
To take a recent example, a unit of sugar concern Florida Crystals purchased 30 acres near Florida’s Turnpike west of Lake Worth and announced plans to build 370 “high-end” apartments, including 70 workforce housing units and a pre-school.
Barcelona’s original builders were allowed to nearly double the normal “density” — the number of residential units permitted in a certain space — if they agreed to set aside 75 apartments for at least 50 years for people in certain income levels.
But Jupiter’s case has revealed some bumps in the road.
Even if the town ultimately prevails, Jupiter officials acknowledge regulations do not appear to require either side to notify or directly compensate the people the program was designed to help, tenants.
Any fines go into the town’s housing trust fund, said Stephanie Thoburn, Jupiter’s assistant director of planning and zoning.
That would not rule out a voluntary agreement by the landlord or some further action by the town to compensate tenants. But there seems to be no built-in mechanism to reimburse renters if violations are found.
Is anyone concerned about what happens to individual tenants who may have overpaid?
“Yes, the town is concerned,” Thoburn said.
In any case, Jupiter officials took a detailed look at Barcelona’s tenants. Town officials say the landlord has ignored regulations to set rents according to the actual incomes of tenants, and instead charged them at the upper limits of certain broad income categories.
For example, town officials figured the tenant at one unit with an annual income just above $40,000 is paying $1,265 in monthly rent, $421 more than justified.
Another with an annual income of $52,000 is paying $1,515 per month, $403 more than necessary, they said.
Building owners disagreed, but Special Magistrate Leonard G. Rubin ruled the “plain language” of a town ordinance supports setting rents by actual income. Olive argued the town overstated the length of stay of tenants and made other miscalculations to arrive at a $150,000 fine. Rubin decided to lower the fine amount but urged the parties to “work together to ensure that the appropriate methodology is utilized” to set rents.
But no quick resolution emerged. If the town is right and the rent is too darn high, one group is left stuck in the middle with little relief in sight: The tenants who were supposed to benefit from workforce housing in the first place.
By Suzanne Cabrera
I had the honor of attending the MerryPlace Groundbreaking on Wednesday where the Housing Center of the Palm Beaches and Pulte will be building two (2) single-family and 34 townhomes. The new housing will be in the Pleasant City neighborhood and will target those residents for those making 50-120% of Area Median Income. As part of the ceremony they were introducing prospective buyers and I saw a familiar face. I realized the gentleman being introduced works at Discovery Village, an assisted living facility for seniors where my mom resides. After the ceremony, he told me how excited he was to be purchasing his own home…a dream come true. Thank you Laurel Robinson and David Kanarek (and numerous other partners) for making this housing project possible. Truly deserving members of our workforce will have a place to call home because of your efforts!
BY LOUIS WOLFSON III
October 08, 2018 04:06 PM
Housing is typically residents’ largest expenditure and, for many, the cost is growing out of control. Whether someone owns or rents, it is an ever-increasing challenge for most South Floridians to afford even modest housing that is accessible to employment, good schools, shopping, entertainment, recreation and community services.
Political leaders, advocacy groups and the media have, with virtual unanimity, pushed for more and better affordable housing for our citizens. This has led to productive policies and the successful development of affordable housing in Florida. But the sad reality is that while our housing inventory has grown, it lags well behind demand, and there remain significant economic, regulatory and political obstacles to building more and doing so expeditiously.
In Pinnacle Housing Group’s 21-year existence, we have constructed more than 7,000 affordable housing units in Florida. We have demonstrated that affordable housing can be successfully and attractively built in good neighborhoods, as well as near transportation, jobs and schools. All of Pinnacle’s communities include public art to enhance their beauty and that of the surrounding neighborhood. One of Pinnacle’s most exciting innovations was implemented in West Brickell, where the Brickell View Terrace community includes, in a single development, luxury market-rate units and commercial retail space together with affordable rental homes .
But there is much to be done to expand the availability of quality, affordable housing for all who need it. The following suggestions can be accomplished in the near term if the public and private sector work together:
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- Each year the state of Florida collects hundreds of millions of dollars in documentary surtax assessments that are to be placed in an affordable housing trust fund. The annual practice of diverting these resources for uses other than affordable housing should end.
- County and municipal ordinances should be further modified and streamlined to incentivize affordable housing investment. Such innovations could include flexible zoning to allow for a variety of mixed-uses that include affordable housing, parking and setback requirement reductions where appropriate. Further, special overlay districts and “form-based zoning” would facilitate the development of affordable housing in an economically sustainable way.
- Requirements that promote expedited permitting, zoning and regulatory processes are complied with only sporadically. Accelerating the regulatory process is critical to timely delivering affordable housing and it can be easily achieved.
- Local governments with extensive holdings of undeveloped land suitable for affordable housing should identify and release such land. More counties and municipalities should take advantage of recent state legislation promoting “P3”, a public/private partnership to develop publicly owned land. The city of Hollywood is joining with Pinnacle in a P3 venture to provide affordable housing for seniors.
- Expand participation in innovative programs such as community land trusts that develop and preserve affordable housing for prospective homebuyers.
- Ensure that large-scale development activities include affordable and workforce housing components enabling essential workers to live near major employers.
- Support existing affordable housing developments with access to recapitalization and modernization resources so they can maintain the highest quality living standards for their residents and surrounding communities. This would include allowing workforce housing units to exist alongside affordable units to provide diversity of incomes as well as more favorable financing options.
- Adopt affordable housing finance regulations that refine construction wage requirements to promote wage growth without unnecessarily driving up construction costs.
The development and operation of affordable housing is one of the best examples of public/private partnerships, which invest federal, state and local dollars while leveraging private risk-taking and investment. These partnerships work, but we can, and should, do more. It is critical to our citizens’ and communities’ future that we do so.
Louis Wolfson III is a founding partner of Pinnacle Housing Group and PHG Builders, Incorporated.