PINELLAS PARK — Rising home prices combined with the loss of affordable alternatives like mobile homes and apartments are making the American dream of home ownership unattainable for many working people — at least in Pinellas County.
And the future doesn't look much brighter. The population of Pinellas is expected to double in the next 50 years, which will put an even greater demand on housing and help keep costs high.
"We're facing a sort of crisis," Anthony Jones told Pinellas Park council members. Jones, the Pinellas County director of community development, appeared before the council to discuss one possible solution to the housing crisis: the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance.
The proposed ordinance would encourage developers to include affordable housing as part of new projects. In return, developers would receive a density bonus, meaning they could build more units on a piece of land than is normally allowed under city and county rules.
The proposal is in a 90-day public comment period. At the end of that, the County Commission is expected to consider passing the ordinance. If all goes well, the ordinance would become effective Jan. 1. It would apply to cities and the unincorporated area unless a municipality decides to opt out.
The goal is to create multi-income, mixed-use developments, Jones said.
"It's at the very early stages," Jones said. "This is not a done deal."
But something needs to be done, he said. Since 2001, Pinellas County has seen 54 apartment communities, or 11,445 apartments, converted to condominiums. Between 1990 and 2005, the number of mobile homes in the county decreased from 22,638 to 18,251. During the period from 1999 to 2005, the median sale price of a new home rose from $190,650 to $474,000.
The county already has three programs to help people buy houses. This new ordinance, Jones said, would be one more tool to help working people afford homes.
The ordinance would apply to developments of 20 or more units, which could be single-family homes, condominiums, townhomes or apartments. In return, the developer would receive a density bonus of up to 50 percent.
"The only thing that ever works to make land cheaper is to put more units on a lot," Jones said.
The affordable, or inclusionary, units would have to be built to the same quality standard as the remainder of the development, but could be smaller and could have fewer or less costly features to help reduce builder costs.
Although the county would prefer that the developer put the inclusionary housing on the same parcel as the rest of the development, that might not always be feasible, as in high-end, waterfront condominiums. In that case, the developer could still get the density bonus by choosing one of three options: building the affordable housing elsewhere in the county, giving land to the county in lieu of the housing or paying money to the county's Housing Trust Fund.
The initial time for public comment ends in early June. The public will have a further chance to comment if the County Commission decides to consider passing the ordinance. For information, or to comment, call Bruce Bussey at 464-8210.