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Activists argue housing crisis will worsen if more development not allowed

The need for housing has reached a critical point, and only bringing in more, and affordable, units can help ease the need.

  • By Louis Llovio
  • | 5:00 p.m. February 2, 2023
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
Zoning rules and other regulations must change to bring more housing to communities where inventory is low and prices are high.
Zoning rules and other regulations must change to bring more housing to communities where inventory is low and prices are high.
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As localities struggle to meet an increasing, and sometimes daunting, need for housing that’s both affordable and attainable, a growing group of activists is working to change how government entities approach density, urging a loosening of rules and of the grip of those opposed to development.

These activists — and advocates — see the current system as burdensome and as the antithesis of smart planning in cities that are facing housing becoming too pricey for many residents who must often leave, live with relatives or become homeless. The solution, the activists say, is to make it easier for developers to build needed apartments or other housing and to find creative solutions to address a troubling trend.

The biggest hurdle, they say, are existing zoning rules and other government procedures that are roadblocks to addressing a desperate need to bring new housing on board that will help drive prices down and give residents options.

The Libertarian-feeling movement is called YIMBY, which stands for Yes In My Backyard. This is an obvious take on — and repudiation of — the familiar NIMBY moniker given to vocal groups who oppose development in the name of protecting their own interests.

“If you have owned a house for 10 years, you may not know what it’s like out there,” says Nathan Hagen, co-founder of YIMBY Tampa. “But if you have a son or a daughter who just graduated college and wants to live in Tampa, if they’re not living with you, I don’t know how they’re paying the rent. I would say what has happened is disastrous for our city.”

Hagen spoke at an Urban Land Institute breakfast program in Tampa held Feb. 2. The title of the program was “Time to Grow up? Urban Density & the Tampa Bay YIMBY Movement." It featured a conversation on how zoning and housing policies need to evolve as population in the region continues to grow at a rapid rate.

I'm hoping after this election, we'll have voices who are willing to stand up for people who have been displaced. And for 300 families that live in an apartment building that are being displaced because of 12 people who live within a 4-mile radius of that building denied that project. –Nathan Hagen, co-founder of NIMBY Tampa

This unprecedented growth, those in the YIMBY movement say, has exposed a major need for housing that’s affordable in the area, creating a situation that threatens those who have made a life here and will be unable to continue living in the city.

That phenomenon has already begun. And, Hagen says, the problem is more serious than is being acknowledged and is more than just about people leaving town.

His partner is a psychologist in the school district and every day sees multiples families at the school she works at living in cars because they can’t afford rising rents or home prices and have few options. “That’s a housing problem,” he says. “And you know, that’s the human tragedy of homelessness.”

The problem in Tampa, he says, is that it’s been 30 years since the city has done anything significant with zoning codes. This despite an influx of about 150 new resident per day.

In that time, neighborhoods have seen new, bigger, more expensive homes replace smaller affordable ones. South Tampa, for example, has seen bungalows replaced by larger homes, one-to-one replacements that have made the old neighborhood all but inaccessible to most potential buyers. Significant housing has come to downtown and to south of Gandy Boulevard, but many of those residences too aren’t accessible to many middle- and lower-income residents.

Without changing current housing policies or zoning rules to bring more housing and drive prices down, only more of the same is going to happen, he says. “We are actually building half as much housing per capita in the last decade as we were in the early 2000s.”

The fear is that by not finding ways to bring more housing, the area could face the same issue with homelessness that has plagued California and other western states. The reason is that the barriers to housing there are the same ones here, Hagen says. “They have the same mindset about slow growth and managed growth and keeping things the same and preserving neighborhood character at all costs.”

Across the bay in St. Petersburg, though, the city has made some changes to how the things have been done to address the need for housing, says Jillian Bandes, president of YIMBY St. Pete. Bandes is also an executive with Dunedin-based Bandes Construction. 

She says the city has been “a little more progressive than Tampa” in terms of updating outdated zoning rules. Among those changes is an expansion of the number of homes that can add additional units — such as mother-in-law suites and apartments over garages  — to single-family homes. Because city council changed the rule last year, almost 50% of the downtown residential area now qualifies for these Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs.)

The projection is for the rule change to bring as many as 700 housing units online. Not much, Bandes says, but a start.

“If you talk about the need for housing, I like to talk about it in terms of tens of thousands of units,” Bandes says. “So how do we actually fix the problem? We need a really massive influx. This is a fairly modest influx of housing, but it is something.”

The activist group is also working to get other measures through city council that will increase housing options.

Among those is a change in zoning that would allow for four units to be built on a single piece of land. These, for now, would be properties that front major transit corridors, meaning they are on somewhat busy streets that could technically afford up zoning measures that won’t affect the character of the neighborhoods.

The change will affect about 3,000 properties downtown, though the hope had been to get many more properties eligible. But opposition from neighbors derailed that.

Still, Bandes says she’ll take something over nothing “especially when hearing about Tampa’s woes.”

If “we’re lucky,” she says, the change should be implemented by March and then the work will begin on getting units built.

“It is an important, symbolic victory to actually change the zoning,” she says. “We want bigger. We want a bigger impact.”



Louis Llovio

Louis Llovio is the deputy managing editor at the Business Observer. Before going to work at the Observer, the longtime business writer worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Maryland Daily Record and for the Baltimore Sun Media Group. He lives in Tampa.

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