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City of Pensacola considers homebuilder incentives for affordable housing

Affordable House on White Sandy Beach
AI Image from NewsRadio Pensacola

PENSACOLA, Fla. (WEAR TV) -- The rising price for rent has stalled following multiple years of rate hikes, according to a recent study by Harvard University. Despite record-breaking increases almost completely halted, data reveals many renters are still economically vulnerable. Not to mention those looking to buy a home. That includes many in Northwest Florida.

This comes as the City of Pensacola is set to decide on incentives for homebuilders for affordable housing. Next week, the city council will vote whether to accept the city's affordable housing incentive plan. One recommendation for the plan is to clearly define "affordable housing."

A researcher WEAR News spoke with on Wednesday says many in the community who can't afford a home still won't meet that criteria. Mayor D.C. Reeves is asking city council to open new doors for homebuilders who are willing to implement affordable housing in the area.

The affordable housing incentive plan will allow a commercial builder to receive a bonus if a portion of the property is designated for those who can't fall below a certain income level.

There's also incentives for developing mixed-income housing near transportation stops and major employers.

And the committee is looking at ways to enact tax exemptions for properties with 50 units where 20% are designated for "extremely low or very-low income households."

Though there's one question that many in the community want to know: What defines "affordable"?

"We typically call housing affordable if it costs no more than 30% of income," Anne Ray, Florida Housing Data Clearinghouse manager at the University of Florida said.

Ray says Northwest Florida's situation is similar to the rest of the nation. "There are a lot of communities looking at a variety of strategies to increase the supply," Ray said. "One way to do that is to provide incentives maybe more units or less parking requirements, if some of the units are provided to working households." "The incentives are one part of an overall strategy to increase the overall affordable housing supply," Ray said.

Another term being used by housing officials is "attainable housing."

Ray says that term is not clearly defined, leaving many in the dark. "I don't tend to use the term attainable housing. I know people have, but really what you can afford depends on how much you earn right?" Ray said. "So it really depends on whose looking." "The question 'What is affordable housing'? Affordable is really workforce housing," State Sen. Doug Broxson said.

Speaking with Sen. Broxson in Tallahassee on Wednesday, he says the homebuilder incentives could put less money in the contractor's pockets, but provide a service that could benefits generations for the better, though Sen. Broxson says more must be done for the middle-class.

"In a normal market, you'll always have entrepreneurs who will find ways to make a dollar, and in this program they'll make fewer dollars but it'd be the right thing to do," Sen. Broxson said. I's a big lift but we have to do it because we have too many people displaced, good hard-working people with the American dream, simply can't afford not only a home but an apartment."

Renters are also taking an increasing hit. A study at Harvard University found in 2022, roughly 8 million renters were cost burdened. In Escambia County alone, more than 37,000 residents struggle to pay rent. That includes 30% of county residents paying more than 50% of their income on rent.


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