Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Density Bonus

If the city of Sarasota really wants to fast-track affordable housing, it should not tie its hopes to the density-bonus proposal aired -- and unanimously panned -- by the planning board this week.

That proposal, which would incentivize work-force housing by raising density limits in and around the downtown, has clearly failed to achieve consensus among the neighborhoods it would affect. The chief reason for that failure, we believe, is that the plan would not yield anywhere near enough affordable housing to warrant the big inducements it would provide to high-end condo developers. (Depending on the area, the plan would double or quadruple the number of those dwellings allowed.)

Good Advice from the editors of the SHT.

The Coalition of City Neighborhoods board has been having e-mail discussions about this issue. What would we suggest that our city consider? Who else might be able to contribute to the discussion?

Earlier in the month CCNA and the Downtown Partnership hosted a forum to discuss the merits of the current density bonus proposal. While the DPA favors some kind of downtown density bonus and would suggest going forward with the current proposal, the neighborhood people believe there may be unintended consequences and do not want to rush forward with this proposal. Instead, take a slower path so everyone understands the proposal and its consequences.

Everyone agrees we need to do something.

The editorial continues:
Alternatives exist, and we urge the commission to fast-track their consideration. Possibilities include: expanded rent subsidies; tax relief for landlords who provide decent work-force housing; repair grants to salvage deteriorating homes; and public purchase of for-sale units, which could then go to the Community Housing Trust.

Another option is to include significant affordable housing as part of the Palm Ave parking lot RFP (along with some parking and street level retail). The YPG leaders favor this as an option. Save Our Sarasota has suggested this option in the past - along with the State St lot that was given to the Pineapple Square developers.

Further discussion has centered around Harvey Vengroff's proposal for some 1600 affordable rental units on land he owns on Fruitville near downtown. While the devil may be in the details, this option needs to be looked into. Since the Park East neighborhood (where this is located) seems to be OK with the proposal, working with Vengroff to flesh out the details and resolve issues sooner rather than later, appears to be another option.

A broad brush approach utilizing the comprehensive plan is not the way to accomplish affordable housing goals. Regardless of what conventional thinking would say, added density downtown is NOT the answer to our problems. We have had several developers utilize the added density provision of the DROD, yet they have not built one unit of housing that is affordable or attainable by the average Sarasota working resident.

Some added density in some parts of the urban area are likely options to drive housing prices down. The caution is that the city Sarasota serves a wide metropolitan area, providing housing, jobs and education. We also know that areas near Sarasota (ie., Bradenton) have similar issues with housing. Adding density will create higher infrastructure demand and if it does reduce housing prices many people will take advantage of the "deal". Are we ready for this?


Anonymous said...

Someone should mention that the housing stock that will be created from high density projects will invariably be cramped 600 s.f. to 1000 s.f. apts suitable for singles or couples, but not families.

Also, construction costs are at an all time high and this type of building is expensive to build, somewhere north of $400 per s.f.

In absolute terms, by granting density bonuses to private developers, the city is promoting the most expensive, least cost effective (but profitable) approach to the afforbable housing problem.

Kind of like subsidizing a steak dinner to a lucky few, while the majority go hungry.

Anonymous said...

Our downtown consists of homes that are predominatly under 1200 square feet and the apartments average about 500 square feet. All the neighborhoods that have homes from the 20's or so are small. The larger homes are the new ones being built not the majority of the old ones. So what is wrong with letting developers build smaller units and more of them? We are not finding one solution to all the problems we can come up with but a possibility that may bring some diversity in housing. Right now, with prices so high we end up with large condos without much options for more manageable smaller units that was the foundation of our city in the first place. It is that those against giving density just want only the very rich to have options or should those under the million mark get some options too. Please stop acting as if we had large living space options prior to 2000 for families in our downtown area.

Anonymous said...

The previous writer makes an assumption that smaller, expensive apts promote diversity. I beg to differ and pose the following rhetorical questions: If a middle class family of four people family had a choice between a $400,000 2 bedroom 1000s.f condo located downtown or $200,000 3 bedroom 2000s.f. home located in the burbs, where would they mostly likely prefer to live? Where could they most likely afford to live?

I think everyone agrees that the ultimate goal for providing affordable housing to promote diversity of people(families, minorities) in the downtown area.

The density bonus proposal will fail to meet this objective for the following reasons:

1. The housing product built will not appeal to its intended market (families, minorities, lower income people) due to size issues and the availablity of cheaper alternatives a few short miles away.
2. High costs associated with high density projects make this the most expensive alternative in absolute terms, which is a contradiciton when you think about it: tack on a few "moderately" priced, shoe box size units to luxury high rise condos.

Passing the density bonus measure will mostly likely have the following effects:

1. Cause infrastructure problems that we all will have to live with and eventually pay for.

2. Bring more well off, older partime residents to the downtown core. These are the people mostly likely to buy smaller condos. So much for diversity.

3. Give all of us more big, ugly buildings to look at while we are stuck in traffic.

4. Double or quadruple potential profits for developers and land owners.

In case anyone has not noticed this density bonus proposal is a classic case of neo-conservative thinking applied at a local level: take a major social problem, throw an incentive or two at private industry, and hope for the best.

I challenge anyone to prove that this type of approach has made a dent in solving the affordable housing problem anywhere. By abdicating its responsibility, the city is in effect letting the wolves attend to the flock.

Anonymous said...

"Some added density in some parts of the urban area are likely options to drive housing prices down."

Not necessarily. Increasing density tends to drive up raw land costs, keeping the ratio of land costs to construction costs the same. When you increase the number of units per acre allowed, land becomes more valuable and will rise in value accordingly.

Building costs are way higher for high density projects, mainly because multi-storied parking garages are required. It takes a lot of extra rebar to keep a 5000 lb SUV suspended 40 or 50 feet above the ground. In general, these projects have an added layer of complexity, from design thru construction which drives prices higher.

Prices could go down, if supply greatly exceeds demand, a scenario no one wants, considering the economic hardship a real estate market crash would cause to our area.

Anonymous said...

Charles Senf\

I read the backup package from the Consultant. In same, the Consultant stated, in at least two places, that the proposed program would not work using the real world numbers for profit, land & construction costs

The report was in .pdf and I could not reliably cut and paste. The CAC wanted $61.05 for a hard copy

If anyone has a link to a text version of this report, let me know ASAP so I can cut and paste the quotes and reference them Monday.

Sigh Oh Nara