As 2023 approaches Collier County’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee is gathering strategies to resolve the local affordable housing crisis. The 11-member committee holds the role of recommending strategies to the Board of Commissioners on providing housing affordability options and incentives for developers.
Previously part of the county’s Human Services Department, the committee became part of the Growth Management Department this month. Collier County Planning and Zoning Director Mike Bosi created four housing plan initiatives associated with the county’s housing plan that was developed more than five years ago.
“What happened when we were developing those final initiatives, they were identified within the housing plan but there was no structure toward how they could be developed,” Bosi said.
The best of the four efforts is allowing for an increase in housing units within the county’s activity centers from 16 units per acre to 25 for affordable housing projects, he said. The growth management plan identifies activity centers as designated intersections of major collector roads where the most intensity is designated in terms of commercial and residential.
“Because of the built-out nature or close to built-out nature of the urbanized area, there’s not a tremendous amount of green fields left. Small infill development is what we have,” Bosi said.
In 1989 when the growth management plan was adopted, it was required that a component of activity centers include high-density, multifamily residential units. This requirement was quickly removed by the commissioners, causing activity centers to become a monoculture of commercial properties.
“It’s not surprising that back 40 years ago the highest and best use for almost every property was commercial in terms of what the developer got from a yield standpoint,” Bosi said. “Well, you fast forward 40-some years and that’s changed considerably.”
There are 22 designated activity centers in the county and because of the increase in online shopping, the need for brick and mortar significantly lessened. Affordable Housing Advisory Committee Chair Joe Trachtenberg said allowing for 25 units when income-restricted housing is included compared to 16 would appeal to potential developers.
“The cost of building continues to rise, so when [Bosi] talked about increasing density from 16 to 25 units, that could very well be the difference between a developer of affordable housing being able to actually clear a profit on the project versus being economically non-feasible,” Trachtenberg said.
The second initiative the committee seeks to bring to the commissioners is the process of converting commercial zones to residential to not necessitate a public hearing. Bosi justified this change by viewing this conversation as a downzoning because residential has less traffic impact than commercial.
“Because it’s a downzoning, you could justify the elimination of the public hearing process and it can be an administrative approval,” Bosi said. “What that does is take the [Not In My Backyard-ism] out of the process because it’s strictly an administrative proposal and the justification is it’s less intense than what that commercial would have yielded in that individual area.”
Committee member Steve Hruby sees potential pushback from the board if this proposal includes C-4 and C-5 commercial areas, which include larger retail properties such as shopping districts or storage facilities.
“From my perspective, [C-4 and C-5] are not your most viable housing areas, they’re not areas where there’s dealerships and auto repair shops and those kind of things,” Hruby said. “That’s probably not suitable even from an environmental standpoint to put housing, so I question why we put that C-4 and C-5. Pulling that out might be much more palatable to the commercial real estate industry.”
Bosi said this could promote developers to have residential on the same parcel as their storage facilities.
“I’ve seen it within Lee County, within Collier County what we’ve seen is developments coming forward with multifamily apartments proposed and they’re having storage facilities within the same facility,” Bosi said. “Not within the residential facility but in an out parcel within it. And it makes a lot of sense that those are the type of land-use synergies you do want to promote.”
The third initiative involves providing developers incentive to build along transit lines near major traffic arteries. Bosi said a good proposal would be if 50% of units are built within a quarter mile of the project entrance and a transit stop is provided for individuals to promote transit, developers can build up to 25 units per acre if affordable housing is provided. The fourth initiative is focusing on strategic opportunity sites near big corporate companies which could benefit from having multifamily units near their campuses.
“The majority of [the initiatives] are based upon incentivizing, attracting, giving more to the developers so they can give to the community a commodity that we do need and that is more supply,” Bosi said. “And we need dedicated supply with income restrictions associated with it.”
Trachtenberg said that the more residents are aware of how the lack of affordable housing is impacting their daily lives, the more they will realize the importance of providing income-restricted units.
“I think part of this is an educational issue, that ultimately when people become aware of the price we’re paying for not having adequate, affordable housing in terms really of a lack of people to provide services,” Trachtenberg said. “Just look at the number of people that the county is trying to hire, the number of key people at the county that the city of Naples have lost, the amount of overtime that’s being paid.”
Recently elected County Commissioner Chris Hall is the new liaison for the advisory committee, replacing Commissioner Rick LoCastro. The lack of affordable housing is something Hall recalls relating to when he was younger, having to commute to Dallas for his job. He said the time for Collier County to act on this crisis is now.
“I know what it’s like to drive an hour and a half, two hours one way and it’s not good,” Hall said. “If we can do what we can as a committee to solve these issues and just quit talking about it and kicking it around, I really want to get something done. I’m not criticizing what’s been done. I want to go today and move forward and really present something to the board.”
The Affordable Housing Advisory Committee meets monthly and will continue to work on these strategies to bring to the board of commissioners at a later date.