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Pasco tells state they don’t need the housing the Live Local bill targets

County officials hope lawmakers change the law to focus on affordable apartments as defined by Pasco conditions.
 
Pasco County's historic courthouse in Dade City is pictured.
Pasco County's historic courthouse in Dade City is pictured. [ Times (2006) ]
Published Feb. 6|Updated Feb. 7

Pasco’s elected leaders say their county doesn’t need the apartment housing that state lawmakers are incentivizing with tax breaks through the Live Local Act they approved last year.

And they’re trying — so far, without success — to get the law changed before the 2024 legislative session ends next month.

The apartments covered by the law would get both tax breaks and land development advantages, even those targeting households making more than $70,000 a year.

Owners of apartment complexes built before the law was passed are eligible. Two such Pasco developments have jumped in to seek tens of millions of dollars in property tax exemptions for existing apartments, some renting for more than $2,000 that they market for their luxuries.

On Tuesday, Pasco County commissioners discussed their latest strategy to change the law. County officials had a conference call Monday with the staff of Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, who has championed the law as a way to address Florida’s affordable housing crisis.

Pasco County’s Chief Assistant County Attorney David Goldstein said that Pasco’s needs are not the same as the state’s. Portions of the law set a statewide standard that includes apartments considered affordable to households making up to 120% of the median income in the area where they live. It’s meant to include families with working adults who still can’t afford typical rents.

Pasco has a surplus of housing at those price points, Goldstein said. What it would need to provide affordable housing in Pasco would be housing with rents set at what families making 80% or less of the median income can afford.

He drafted language proposed as an amendment to the existing Live Local law that would allow counties to prove where the real needs for affordable housing exist.

Under the state’s standard, Live Local gives apartment developers the ability to take over commercial and industrial sites to build apartments and get up to 100% property tax waived, potentially through 2059. For the two Pasco apartment complexes that have told the Florida Housing Coalition that they plan to participate — Tapestry Cypress Creek and The Gallery at Trinity Apartments — the tax breaks could add up to $86 million over the life of the program, the county estimates.

Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said that as legislators have been working on changes in the bill, they have made things worse. They reopened the application period for more existing apartments to apply throughout this week. She said she is concerned that the tax losses could grow even larger for Pasco and other counties.

Pasco County School Board member Alison Crumbley warned her colleagues on Tuesday that the district could face extreme financial pressures if proposed Live Local revisions advance without changes.

Crumbley said the bill would allow residential housing in areas previously zoned commercial or industrial, where schools are not available to serve them. At the same time, the bill would allow the owners to reduce their tax bills, which pay for things such as building the new schools they might necessitate.

Pasco County commissioners were hoping to get good news before the end of their meeting on Tuesday afternoon. They had pitched their amendment to Live Local with hopes it would make it into the new version of the legislation, but that had not happened by the time the commission adjourned.

Commissioner Jack Mariano said he was heading to Tallahassee straight from the commission meeting to try to meet with legislators and aides to plead Pasco’s case.

Commissioners told Goldstein to move forward with legal action against the two apartment complexes that have filed for tax exemptions if the Senate doesn’t consider the Pasco argument.

That legal action would start with a demand letter telling them not to file for the tax break with the tax collector’s office. If they do file then they would face a formal legal complaint. The threat of action has worked to ward off some developers who had considered applying for the break but didn’t want to land in court, Goldstein said.

He also told commissioners that they “had a lot of silent cheerleaders” among other cities and counties that were just beginning to realize the potential effect that Live Local will have on their communities and budgets but are notwilling to be the tip of the spear like us.”

Times staff writer Jeff Solochek contributed to this report.