FILE - Low income housing

Companion House and Senate bills that would, among other changes in impact fee laws, eliminate local governments’ ability to levy mandatory affordable housing assessments on developers are poised for adoption this session.

House Bill 7103, sponsored by Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville, was advanced Wednesday in a 14-8 vote by the House State Affairs Committee, its last panel endorsement before being presented on the House floor.

Senate Bill 1730, sponsored by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, has secured two committee approvals and awaits a hearing before the Senate Rules Committee before it can advance to a chamber vote.

The bills would restrict municipalities from adopting or imposing mandatory affordable housing requirements in any form, including in comprehensive plan amendments, land development regulation, or as conditions of a development order or permit.

HB 7103 and SB 1730 target mandatory incentives imposed by local governments to create affordable housing below market rates in “inclusionary zoning” districts.

Fischer told the House State Affairs Committee Wednesday that by removing mandates that stipulate developers build a given amount of affordable housing units in a new development, or that cap prices in designated areas, HB 7103 would allow the free market to provide affordable housing opportunities without the burdens and inefficiencies of government-imposed artificial price controls.

“My intention is to make housing more affordable,” he said.

Among supporters is the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida and Florida Home Builders Association [FHBA]

FHBA representative Kari Hebrank said affordable housing impact fees and “inclusionary zoning” designations create an artificial market with very real costs.

“When you have price controls in place, somebody has to pay for that,” Hebrank said. “Many times, mandatory inclusionary zoning doesn’t have incentives.”

Committee chairman Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, said the required impact fee and inclusion zoning regulations is akin to “governmental price-fixing.”

“Regulation” contributes to housing costs, so cutting them will lower costs, and make participation in affordable housing projects more economically viable for developers, Ingoglia said.

“We need to stop being hypocrites when it comes to affordable housing,” he said, and recognize doing away with regulations – not adding them – will increase affordable housing development opportunities.

Eliminating the mandates does not mean local governments can’t offer affordable housing incentives, Ingoglia said. “This is saying you can’t mandate – you can still negotiate.”

Democrats and local government advocates said they opposed the bill for a range of reasons.

“Free market” economic principles have not solved the state’s affordable housing problem thus far, noted Rep Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale, nor is it likely to do so if participation in “inclusionary” affordable housing incentives is voluntary.

“Voluntary is not going to get it,” he said. “If it did, we wouldn’t be here.”

Florida League of Cities [FLC] representative Jeff Branch said HB 7103 would eliminate a “tool from the developer’s toolbox” that has proven to be a flexible asset in promoting affordable housing projects, noting it is often used in negotiating “win-win” variances with builders.

“To take away an option won’t help the little guy,” said Rep. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton.

In addition to eliminating local governments’ ability to impose affordable housing impact fees, HB 7103 prohibits a local government from requiring payment of impact fees prior to the issuance of a building permit, imposes time limits for municipalities to review permit applications and would “expand the scope of work for a private provider” in the development process by encouraging local government to contract out for such services rather than do so in-house.