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Ideas for affordable housing rejected

The County Commission last week turned down key suggestions from a county task force for increasing the supply of affordable housing.

Commissioners said they didn't like the task force's idea of waiving impact fees, which can run between $1,400 and $3,500 for each new house, for affordable housing developments.

Nor were they enthusiastic about allowing higher densities of units within such developments. The county's Housing Task Force proposed allowing three housing units per acre instead of one, if the units are affordably priced. That could cut the cost of each new house by $2,500, the task force said.

But the commissioners objected that the changes would unfairly give special preference to a few. As Commission Chairman Frank Schiraldi put it, "Some points here would literally gut the growth management plan of Citrus County."

The board wasn't swayed when county Housing Services Director Stan Fitterman said federal and state law allow such preferential treatment to promote housing for low- and moderate-income families.

The term "affordable housing" generally means ordinary single-family dwellings that tenants can buy or rent with help from government subsidies, but not public housing typical of inner cities, Fitterman noted.

Participants have to meet income eligibility standards: A family of four can earn up to $35,500 and still participate in some programs.

The county's Housing Task Force, made up of volunteers from the building trades and other groups, spent the past year looking for ways to break down any barriers in county policy that discourage affordable housing.

While rejecting the committee's major ideas, the commissioners did endorse some minor zoning changes intended to make housing cheaper across the board: for example, allowing narrower spaces for compact cars in parking lots.

The county has to endorse a plan this month to continue its eligibility for more than $350,000 in state grants that underwrite affordable housing, such as the First-Time Homebuyers Program.

Under that program, the county helps buyers come up with the down payment for their first house; 12 families have taken advantage of it since it began in the fall, Fitterman said.

The commission will endorse a revised draft of the plan at its meeting Tuesday. To pass the state's minimum requirements, the county must at least promise to review the effect of new regulations on housing costs. And it must streamline applying for building permits _ a process that is already under way.