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A good first step, but take next strides lightly

A Times Editorial
Published December 13, 2007


There is a lot of housing in Tarpon Springs that would qualify as "affordable," but there isn't nearly enough, so last week the Tarpon Springs City Commission wisely took a first step toward offering incentives for builders to construct more of it. On first reading, the commission approved an ordinance that would allow developers to qualify for extra density if they agree to make some of the units in a project affordable. In other words, they could build more units than normally allowed on a plot of land.

The ordinance, which will require a second commission vote to take effect, would provide up to a 50 percent density bonus for development of affordable rented or owned units. The developer could then use the extra units to recover his investment in building affordable units, which sell for less. Pinellas County and some city governments have similar incentive programs.

The density ordinance was drafted after Pat Weber, executive director of the Tarpon Springs Housing Authority, attended a commission meeting and appealed to commissioners to do something to encourage development of housing for low- and moderate-income people who now struggle to afford housing in Pinellas.

She said 600 people were on a waiting list for affordable housing - a list that is an exercise in futility, because there are not nearly enough units to satisfy the demand.

"The affordable housing crisis is getting worse," Weber told commissioners last week. "People are losing their homes left and right."

Weber also wanted the commission to waive impact fees for developers who build affordable housing, also called workforce housing. However, city officials are reluctant to do so while facing a revenue squeeze because of state tax reform, rising costs and a teetering economy. Their concern is understandable.

Mayor Beverley Billiris said the city could instead offer other help to builders, such as reducing required parking and setbacks. However, the commission should approach such reductions cautiously, weighing the consequences. Insufficient parking onsite can lead to spillover into the surrounding neighborhood, irritating neighbors and causing disputes. And with the density bonus in place, maintaining setbacks that provide green space, a buffer from surrounding properties and access by fire trucks is more important than ever.

[Last modified December 12, 2007, 21:09:33]

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