Led by Mayor Bill Mutz, a majority of the City Commission expressed enthusiastic support for a series of groundbreaking steps to address the issue of affordable housing in Lakeland during a policy workshop today.

“We are not unique in the problems of the nation on this area of affordable housing, but we have to do Lakeland,” Mutz said in opening the workshop. “This is a sidewalk we can sweep.”

Commissioners heard a presentation by the city’s planning and housing manager, Teresa Maio, on several short-term and long-term steps that could be taken to encourage building as many as 1,500 affordable housing units over the next decade. Like other cities, Lakeland has found itself with a shortage of decent affordable housing and is trying to play catch-up.

The plan presented by Maio (see a summary here or at the end of this article) would require the commission to take a succession of steps over the next several months. Among those steps would be an appropriation of $250,000 that would help create a pool of money to be loaned to a developer to build affordable single-family and multi-family housing units on properties currently owned by the city or by the Community Redevelopment Agency.

City Manager Tony Delgado noted the comprehensive plan for marshaling local, state and federal funds to propel a public-private housing program is unprecedented for Lakeland.

“We’ve never done anything of this magnitude before. I feel it’s a great incentive. We’ve seen it work elsewhere,” he said.

An effort by Mutz last year to address the problem was met with caution on the part of the commission, but on Friday, four of the five commissioners present at the workshop were vocal in support of the initiatives.

“”We haven’t had movement on this issue in the decade I’ve been on the commission,” said Commissioner Justin Troller.

Commissioners Stephanie Madden, Phillip Walker and Sara Roberts McCarley also expressed support, commending Mutz, Maio and the city staff for their work on the problem.

“This is so exciting to me. I thank the mayor for his leadership,” Madden said.

The city already has undertaken some preliminary steps, including the establishment of a cross-departmental task force and designating Maio as the city’s first staff person devoted to affordable housing. Among the recommendations to the commission in her presentation:

  • Adopt a one-year action plan in July that would include shifting $218,000 in federal funds from rehabilitation of housing to construction of new housing;
  • Expand the eligibility of waiving 100 percent of non-utility impact fees for single-family and multi-family developments;
  • Allow the collection of utility deposits on single-family dwellings to be collected in multiple payments;
  • Create a “land bank” that would include all buildable city- and CRA-owned, single-family lots with a marketable title and require buyers to be low- or moderate income (120 percent of the average median income);
  • Allow for the sale of lots suitable for multiple-family units at not less than 120 percent of the just market value.

The $250,000 appropriation from the city would be combined with funds available from the Florida Housing Finance Corp., an entity that distributes money allocated by the Florida Legislature for affordable housing. The resulting pool of $350,00 to $400,000 would be awarded annually to a single developer as a loan with a 1 percent interest rate.

The loan would be awarded as part of a competitive process, beginning in November with developers invited to submit applications, Maio said. The winning proposal could be announced early next year.

Maio said city staff has currently identified about 110 properties that might be possible sites for new construction of affordable housing and wowed commissioners with an interactive map showing the location of the properties along with each one’s size, zoning status and other identifying data.

That map will be made available on the city website in the future, Maio said.

Commissioner Bill Read expressed a reservation about the plan, noting that it promoted rental properties rather than home ownership.

Director of Community and Economic Development Nicole Travis responded: “Home ownership is not for everyone. Owning a home is expensive.”

Commissioner Scott Franklin did not attend this morning’s commission meetings.

A dozen representatives from the Polk Ecumenical Action Council for Empowerment (PEACE), a faith-based community-action organization that has been pushing for affordable-housing policies, were present at the workshop and addressed the commissioners.

“It’s an important step for increasing the number of affordable housing units for families and their children by 500 over the next four years,” said Christine Goding, a board member of PEACE. “Homeless students are thankful for your commitment and follow-through, and PEACE is thankful for your commitment and follow-through as well. We are so encouraged by what we have heard today.”

In an interview following the workshop, Mutz said the city’s consciousness needs to change regarding homelessness and affordable housing.

“Everyone wants to talk about affordable housing but nobody wants to do anything about it. We have let this happen in our backyard. We have to move government more into an area of responsibility,” he said.

Mutz said he is pleased a majority of commissioners have agreed on the necessity to act.

“I think the commission is strongly supportive,” he said. “I love working with this commission, and I think the commission is working well with the staff. We are able to have confidence in each other.”

Summary: Lakeland Affordable Housing Steps

Watch today’s discussion:

Policy Workshop from City of Lakeland on Vimeo.


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