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Using zoning to promote affordable housing in St. Petersburg

Group Yes in My Backyard seeks to change laws to make housing more affordable.

This article was originally published in the October issue of Florida Trend magazine.

in St. Petersburg, Jillian Bandes, who works at her family’s firm, Bandes Construction, is as eloquent as any non-profit advocate on how a home leads to better outcomes for people whether in education, health care or another social good.

She founded a local chapter of Yes in My Backyard, a national effort to change laws to make housing more affordable and accessible, and has asked the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce to support it. (YIMBY encompasses a mix of free-market approaches and government mandates to add housing. Market Urbanism, another approach, is libertarian in outlook.)

Related: How to solve Florida’s affordable housing crisis

Earlier this year, Bandes argued against a proposal in St. Petersburg to raise money for affordable housing by charging a $1 per square foot of gross floor area “linkage fee.” She says the fee would drive up costs while providing only a few dozen housing units. She favors government-subsidized housing for those at the bottom and even a modest amount of inclusionary zoning, which forces developers to set aside units for affordable housing as a condition to build. She also favors creation of housing co-ops and land trusts.

But she sees a private-sector solution — easing regulation to allow for more units per acre. St. Petersburg’s skyline should taper from high-rises in the city center to mid-rises to low-rise, multi-unit buildings in near-in neighborhoods. This upzoning to allow three units on a lot instead of one drives down the cost per unit by square foot by 15 percent to 20 percent and the sales price per unit or rent price by as much as 20 percent, she says.

“Density is good for everyone except the HOA,” she says. “The core of the fix has got to be bold policy changes.” Late last year, St. Petersburg City Council approved a “neighborhood traditional mixed” zoning category to allow more “missing middle” multi-unit buildings.

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