How loose workforce housing rules benefit Palm Beach County developers

2022-08-27 03:00:00 By : Ms. mary hou

In 2006, Palm Beach County commissioners created an ambitious program to build more middle-class housing.

The premise was simple: Developers building new residences in the unincorporated county would have to sell or rent a portion of them at prices affordable to middle-class residents.

But commissioners have repeatedly weakened the workforce housing program's requirements, allowing developers to provide fewer moderately priced houses and apartments, a Palm Beach Post investigation found.

A Post Investigation:Breaks for developers: County caved repeatedly on housing for workers. Now it’s a crisis.

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Here are five projects where developers benefited from the weakened rules, leaving county residents with fewer moderately priced housing options.

At the Colony Reserve apartments west of Lantana, the project’s developer, the Holiday Organization, was approved in 2008 to build 221 units, with help from incentives from the workforce housing program that allowed extra density.

In exchange, the developer had to agree to set aside 51 units as workforce housing and keep the rents on them below certain levels.

But after county commissioners loosened the rules in 2010, Holiday resubmitted the plans, making use of the new “partial incentive” option that lowered the workforce-housing requirements.

In 2014 the project won approval to build slightly fewer units – 191 instead of 221 – but with a dramatically smaller number of workforce housing units: 11 instead of 53.

The project had shrunk by 13%. But under the commission’s new rules, the workforce-housing requirements had dropped by nearly 80%.

One of the biggest losses of potential workforce housing units took place at Arden, a 2,300-home development being built west of Lion Country Safari and Royal Palm Beach.

Under the pre-2010 rules, the 2,334-unit development of $600,000 and $700,000 homes would have generated 280 workforce units through the county program.

But in 2016, Lennar took advantage of lower requirements approved in 2010 to build 2,000 units on the site. That meant an obligation of 60 units.

Then, county commissioners agreed to raise the total number of permitted units to 2,334.

Commissioners could have treated the increase like a request for a "density bonus," when a developer is allowed more units on their land in exchange for building a higher percentage of workforce housing.

Such a bonus typically would have required building 40% of the extra 334 units as workforce housing under the pre-2010 rules.

But commissioners decided to require just 20%, or 67.

Instead of 280 workforce units, the project was supposed to generate 127.

Commissioners also disregarded county administrators’ recommendation that they require Arden’s units to be built on site. Commissioners decided, instead, that Lennar could fulfill the obligation by building off-site or simply paying an opt-out fee.

Lennar opted for the fee.

Rather than build, Arden’s developers wrote checks. Of the 2,334 homes planned for Arden, not one ended up being a workforce housing unit.

Opinion:5 ways to get affordable housing built.

When Lennar wanted to build Gulfstream Preserve on a tract of land west of Lake Worth, it sought to increase the number of units permitted on the site.

Doing so through the workforce housing program – using a “density bonus” – would have required setting aside 30% of the extra units as workforce housing.

So Lennar asked the county commission to rezone the land instead.  

County commissioners agreed. In exchange, commissioners required in 2009 that just 15% of the units be workforce housing – half of what would have been required by the program’s density bonus.

Instead of 74 workforce housing units, Gulfstream Preserve produced 37.

When GL Homes wanted to build a housing development on an old municipal golf course near Boca Raton, it sought in 2018 to have the land rezoned.

By then, county administrators had settled on a policy of recommending that such density increases only be approved with a requirement that at least 25% of the extra units be workforce housing.

But at the golf course, commissioners required just 10% in exchange for rezoning the land, persuaded by GL Homes' argument that the normal requirements shouldn't apply because the rezoning was to convert it from park land.

Instead of 131 workforce units, GL Homes was required to produce 53.

The single largest loss of potential workforce housing units came in 2016, when county commissioners approved the massive Indian Trail Groves development west of The Acreage.

The 3,900-home GL Homes project was made possible by county commissioners’ decision to rezone the land from an agricultural area to a low-density residential neighborhood.

Under the county’s practice at the time, such a rezoning would have required 25% of the units to be built and sold as workforce housing.

County commissioners, though, disregarded the typical requirements. Rather than 25%, they asked GL Homes to provide just 10% of the units as workforce housing.

Instead of 974 workforce unit “obligations,” the project will produce 390, a loss of 584.

Andrew Marra is an investigative reporter at The Palm Beach Post.