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Task force brainstorms on housing

About 2,000 people called the Florida Home Partnership last year seeking help in buying a house, the most requests Earl Pfieffer has fielded in his nine years as director of the Ruskin nonprofit.

Already this year, 261 people have sought help - 100 more than the same time last year.

"It's getting harder and harder to serve the people who qualify for our program," Pfieffer said. "We're going to get slapped with a giant shortage if nothing is done."

On Monday, a Hillsborough County task force of developers, housing officials, real estate agents, bankers and nonprofit directors offered recommendations that county commissioners could adopt to address a problem that officials like Pfeiffer say is getting worse.

After years of soaring home prices and flat wages, a growing need for affordable housing has become a chief concern throughout Florida. Dozens of city and county governments have passed measures to close the affordability gap.

The 76 recommendations considered by the task force on Monday came after nearly a year of meetings. During the next month, the task force will whittle them down to a few. County commissioners may vote on them in April or May.

Some recommendations seem to have wide support. They include:

+ Speeding up the governmental review of projects that include affordable housing.

+ Increasing the amount of down payment assistance Tampa and Hillsborough provide potential home buyers who qualify for aid.

+ Acquiring more governmental land for affordable housing.

Other recommendations, most of which came from a subcommittee chaired by Joseph Narkiewicz, executive vice president of the Tampa Bay Builders Association, promise to be controversial. They include:

+ Waiving impact fees for projects that include affordable housing.

+ Allowing developers to build more units than zoning allows if affordable units are included.

+ Overriding community design plan guidelines, like the ones in Ruskin, Apollo Beach, Citrus Park Village and Town 'N Country, if a project has a certain number of affordable units.

+ Expanding the area that the county's long-range growth plan allows for dense development.

Commissioner Tom Scott, who chairs the 24-member task force, said he's encouraged by the quality of the recommendations. But he said they'd be scrutinized before they're even considered for adoption.

"These are incentives to encourage developers to come out and do affordable housing," Scott said. "I don't know if many of these will get support. But overall, I'm on a high. This is very workable."