By Mary Dougherty
We all love living in Florida. Our climate, both meteorologically and in business make this a very attractive State to call home. I’m pleased to say I’ve called Florida home since 1979. Yet we all depend on others for our day to day existence and quality of life. We need police officers, teachers, nurses, grocery workers and others that are having difficulty affording to live in the region. This also extends to the construction industry. Members of the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange recruit at some of the top Schools of Construction Management in the country, but potential employees turn them down for offers in other areas of the country that are more affordable. These are high wage and high skill jobs. Exactly the type of jobs we prioritize for the region.
To have a meaningful conversation about affordable housing, we have to have a conversation about government processes and regulations. Just as a homeowner shouldn’t have to wait months for a home renovation permit, or a new home permit in an area where infrastructure and utilities are available, we need to make it simpler to get to yes to allow the housing that’s needed for our expanding region. When it takes a year or longer to have development applications considered that raises the cost of housing, creates uncertainty and also makes it difficult for existing residents to know what change is coming. The fees for these particular petitions/applications can cost in the 10’s to 100’s of thousands of dollars before a single home is even started. Streamlining the process, improving accountability in the reviews and encouraging affordable/workforce/attainable housing alternatives needs to be a priority for the entire region.
When the local Sheriff’s say the number one issue facing their agencies is finding housing the system needs to be improved and be improved quickly. It’s even more critical when our hospitals and medical providers are reporting the same issues. While some local governments have taken steps to create incentives for smaller housing units designed to address affordable housing, not all the local governments in our region have taken steps to embrace these initiatives. With so many local governments in our region, having artificial differences from one jurisdiction to another especially when we act and live as one community/region it just doesn’t make sense. Residents don’t see municipal boundaries, but these boundaries are impediments to affordable housing. Just as our local governments collaborate on economic development, they should collaborate to solve the affordable housing crisis in the region. We will get further and achieve more working together.
We are fortunate to call this region home. We want and need to keep it a desirable place to live and work, but in order to do this we must solve the affordable housing crisis. People moving to Florida will have different needs and desires when it comes to their housing needs. We must plan for all these needs, but we must come together and also plan for attainable housing for essential workers. Perhaps there are those that think delaying these plans and applications will result in less growth, but unfortunately the only thing they are accomplishing is increasing costs. Yes, we have to have feasible and realistic plans for the growth of our community, but we also need to have expediency and predictability in our government approval processes so that those plans can actually be carried out and carried out regionally.