Pasco County leaders have made clear their belief that a new law allowing developers to turn land designated for commercial or industrial use into affordable housing undermines their ability to create jobs.
They also argue they are harmed by the requirement that most of the money Pasco gets from the state’s main affordable housing program be spent to help people looking to buy homes. Relief for renters is a far greater need, they say.
Pasco County officials have decided to take those concerns to their local state lawmakers to seek changes to laws that are putting the county further behind in its housing and job balance and ability to meet local needs. They plan to appeal for greater flexibility.
County commissioners have complained several times now about the impact of the Live Local Act, which was approved in the last legislative session and allows conversion of commercial land into housing. It removes the county from decisions about where such uses are appropriate and compatible and about what developers need to do to make their project fit with a community.
The law also gives a break on taxes for the project depending on the level of affordability.
During a legislative strategy session last month, Pasco commission chairperson Jack Mariano said Live Local was going to undo 20 years of the county’s effort to attract construction that puts people to work so it’s not just known as a “bedroom community.” But he also said that the tax breaks that come along with it are “crazy.”
Several years ago, the county sought help from the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council to set aside land that could lead to job creation. The report that came back showed Pasco is still jobs poor and housing rich.
Pasco needs to be a “balanced community” with a diversified tax base, said David Engel, Pasco’s economic growth manager. “Live Local is very intrusive to local land-use policy and also fiscal policy.”
The balance is important because “residential consumes more in county services than it contributes in taxes. The balancing act is on the industrial side,” he said. “We need that.”
Engel proposed that Pasco County ask the legislative delegation to introduce a jobs-to-residential ratio that would exempt jobs-poor counties.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said she was happy to see the company Dominium Development recently use the normal rezoning process to gain approval to build an affordable apartment complex in Holiday. She said she thought that it would be good if the state would make more money available for that kind of project, which isn’t seeking tax breaks or to use land needed to create new jobs.
Marcy Esbjerg, the Pasco community development director, said another change is needed in the way the state distributes money for affordable housing through the State Housing Initiatives Partnership.
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In Pasco, the ratio of home owners to renters is higher than in other counties. Pasco needs more funding to help renters, but the rules require 65% of the funds it received through the program to pay for home ownership. This year the county is expecting to get $77 million. With Pasco average housing prices now over $400,000, the money won’t go as far and “it makes it very difficult for us to spend the money in that way,” she said.
County officials propose a law change that would allow counties to make their own decisions about spending priorities based on their three-year housing plans, which reflect what the local community needs.
Mariano said he liked the idea of pushing for more home ownership, but Esbjerg said that in Pasco, spending $125,000-$200,000 on building a rental unit “will help many, many more families” than a down payment on a house.
Commissioners will present their slate of annual requests for the legislative delegation early next month, and other government entities, private organizations and individuals can also address the delegation by signing up ahead of time.
Pasco’s legislative delegation will hear community input at noon Oct. 2 at the Pasco Hernando State College West Pasco Campus Performing Arts Center, 10230 Ridge Road, New Port Richey.