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Florida lawmakers pass legislation to change Live Local Act, affordable housing law

Republicans hold a supermajority in the Florida House and Senate. On Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024, lawmakers will gather in Tallahassee for the 2024 Legislative Session.
Via News Service of Florida
Republicans hold a supermajority in the Florida House and Senate. On Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024, lawmakers will gather in Tallahassee for the 2024 Legislative Session.

Some changes are coming to last year’s landmark housing law, known as the Live Local Act.

The backlash from municipalities and developers across the state had legislators back on the drawing board this legislative session.

The Live Local Act was designed to boost development in the state, amid an affordable housing crisis that was driving workers out of Florida — but six months of putting it into practice has revealed some gaps.

The legislation incentivizes private-sector builders to compete for about $800 million of appropriated funds, mainly from existing housing programs, tax credits, and tax breaks. The law also preempts local governments, bypassing commercial and industrial zoning restrictions, as well as allowing for max height and density. To qualify, developers must keep at least 40% of their rental housing units at or below 120% of the area median income for at least 30 years.

While the law has somehow helped balance a tight housing market in some places, for other jurisdictions it’s been less than ideal, with leaders demanding big changes, even placing moratoriums on development until their needs are addressed.

Municipalities pushed back

Leaders of smaller cities have said they need to develop their commercial and industrial spaces, not more homes. Originally, the bills proposed to address more of the cities’ concerns but, during session, the bills were amended and Live Local will now be even more pro-developer than before.

When first drafted, the bills provided municipalities control over their industrial zones — but final changes didn’t do this, and industrial zones are still preempted. However, the legislation now provides some allowance for municipalities to restrict height when developments are near single-family neighborhoods.

Citing Planned Development Unit concerns, leaders in cities like DeBary and other municipalities have expressed concern about having the infrastructure necessary to support any more new developments in areas not intended to take any more housing units.

“For our community to be able to absorb the infrastructure costs, unfortunately, the residents are going to pay. You're going to have to raise your tax rates in order to accommodate the infrastructure improvements that you're going to have to make as a result of how large some of these projects are going to be. So, density is an issue,” DeBary City Manager Carmen Rosamonda said.

Attorney Rebecca Wilson, who’s practiced land use law in Central Florida for 22 years, said there are some unwarranted fears and misconceptions about the law. She said it’s not that easy for developers to just build.

“It is not a free pass for developers. All it does is say, you don't have to go get this rezoned and do it in front of the commission, but you still have to do all the other steps in the development process,” Wilson said. “That’s why you don't see that many builders who have used it yet.”

Developers asked for more

Some developers’ chief complaints with Live Local stated the preemptions that were meant to streamline the approval process were replaced by new battles with local governments.

The tweaks now prohibit counties and municipalities from using public hearings to accept or deny development proposals and won’t allow local governments to limit how much of the land is used to build units.

The legislation also reduces parking requirements when a development will be near a public transit center.

According to Wilson, it’s common for new laws to be amended by legislators, and Live Local could be tweaked even more in years to come.

“Wherever there are lobbyists, there are changes to laws. So, I think as long as the local governments and lobbyists continue to want changes, there will be changes discussed in Tallahassee,” Wilson said.

Other changes include prohibiting building near military installations or airports and appropriating $100 million more for the Florida Hometown Hero Program.

Once a bill clears the House and Senate, there are three options: It can be signed and become law, vetoed, or become law without the Governor's signature.

Lillian Hernández Caraballo is a Report for America corps member.
Copyright 2024 WMFE. To see more, visit WMFE.

Lillian Hernández Caraballo