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One year later, Florida legislators are updating the $711 million Live Local Act

Two pieces of legislation are making their way through the Florida Legislature aimed at tweaking and updating the affordable housing legislation passed with wide bipartisan support last year.

  • By Louis Llovio
  • | 5:00 a.m. February 20, 2024
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
CIG Communities considered shelving a Naples apartment project until it learned the Live Local Act could help offset increased costs.
CIG Communities considered shelving a Naples apartment project until it learned the Live Local Act could help offset increased costs.
Photo by Steffania Pifferi
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A year after passing the landmark Live Local Act aimed at spurring the construction of affordable and attainable housing in Florida, lawmakers are tweaking the law to ease concerns from a small number of localities and to strengthen some provisions.

The Florida legislature is in the process of moving two bills — Senate Bill 328 and House Bill 1239 — that, while still working their way through the process, have won wide bipartisan support.

SB 328 unanimously passed in the Senate Feb. 7 and has moved to the House. HB 1239 was in the appropriations committee as of Feb. 16.  It is expected that Gov. Ron DeSantis will sign the legislation.

Among the changes to the original Live Local Act are a prohibition limiting the floor area ratio from falling below 150% of highest allowed usage; how tax exemptions are calculated; the creation of height protections for single-family neighborhoods; and the elimination of parking requirements for transit-oriented development projects. (Floor area is a technical term for a ratio between a building’s total constructed floor area and the land area.)

Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, in a statement, says the legislation “incorporates feedback from all stakeholders to ensure that the Live Local Act is effectively implemented across Florida while maintaining the character of our state’s unique communities.”

The Live Local Act was a bipartisan affordable housing plan passed by Florida’s Legislature in March 2023 providing $711 million in funding for housing programs. The Senate passed the act unanimously and the House passed it 103-6; 10 members abstained. It was signed into law March 29 and went into effect July 1. It was signed into law March 29 and went into effect July 1.

According to an alert prepared by the law firm Holland & Knight in August, the act mandates that local governments authorize “the development of multifamily rentals on sites that are zoned as mixed-use residential, commercial or industrial if at least 40% of the residential units in a proposed multifamily development will, for a period of at least 30 years, be affordable to individuals making up to 120% of the local area median income.”

(The new legislation eliminates the word rental allowing for market rate “for sale” units.)

It also orders municipalities to apply the highest allowed density for proposed multifamily developments. And developers still need to meet local regulations, with residents getting a say on issues like landscaping, setbacks and parking standards.

The idea behind the act is to create affordable and attainable housing in a state where it’s getting more difficult, financially speaking, each year to live. In early February the University of South Florida’s business school and the Tampa Bay Partnership released a study that found that for every dollar earned by a local resident, 57 cents goes toward housing and transportation.

The need is particularly severe for workforce housing, leading politicians of all stripes and parties to say the issue needs to be addressed lest teachers, police officers, nurses and others flee localities in search of affordability.

If there is any doubt on the unanimity of this idea, one only needs to look at the vote totals. Where else, in this day and age, do you find this sort of bipartisan support?

In someone's backyard

While early the initial legislation has shown some results. Along the Gulf Coast region at least two projects have broken ground and will bring hundreds of new units online soon using either funds or provisions from the Live Local Act: a 233-unit apartment complex on Immokalee Road in north Naples and a 140-unit apartment project on State Road 579 in Mango, Hillsborough County. 

And the Fort Lauderdale developer PTM Partners has said it “hopes to spearhead a movement toward reshaping how developers approach affordable housing.”

But some some local communities, including Pasco County, are balking at how the original law is being implemented and have raised concerns about unintended consequences.

The leading criticism? The law strips away the ability for local leaders to make decisions about what’s happening in their communities. 

Pasco’s elected officials have been a chief critic of the Live Local Act, with Commissioner Seth Weightman saying in a recent radio interview that “multifamily workforce housing can be put up on those sites with zero comments from the public, zero review from planning commissions, zero approval from city councils or county commissions and become a project for residential use.

“And it completely bucks Pasco County and other cities and counties — what they plan for to be in that area, how to plan for ... when folks come in, we still have to provide police and fire and all the services that folks expect.”

Weightman did not respond to a request for comment from the Business Observer on this story and what he thinks about the changes.

In some corners, the complaints, though, are being chalked to “NIBYism,” one of the chief concerns the original Live Local Act was meant to address. Other concerns from local municipalities echo "home rule" issues that often arise when Tallahassee passes sweeping legislation. 

A great tool

The rules allowing multi-use properties to be used for multifamily development were meant to eliminate neighborhood opposition, removing small — and often loud — community groups from holding up or killing affordable, attainable and workforce housing projects.

“If you talk about the concept of affordability, schools, places of worship, everybody's on board with it. But when you talk about it in the real world, in their neighborhoods, they don't want it,” says Anthony De Yurre, a partner in the land development and government relations group at the Miami law firm Bilzin Sumberg.

“You have to be understanding that the American Dream does not stop at our thresholds. That the American dream is for everybody.”

De Yurre says the proposed changes are meant to ease some of the pressure on elected leaders by building in protections for neighborhoods while at the same time adding provisions that will move projects along.

One of those provisions is eliminating the parking requirements for Live Local developments that are within a half mile of a transportation hub and that have available parking within 600 feet. This does two things: reduces the cost and creates more space for housing used by those in need of public transportation.

And that’s what localities need, the ability to bring in new residents and provide affordable housing for existing ones by removing barriers and providing economic incentives.

“Some jurisdictions will embrace Live Local, see it for the incredible tool that it is, leverage it, figure out a way to make it work within their own local development codes and will succeed,” says De Yurre.

“The ones that want to fight it tooth and nail because they think it’s this big, scary thing, they should look at it and they'll find that it's not. It's really a great tool for them.”



Louis Llovio

Louis Llovio is the commercial real estate 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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