Voters decide on the county’s Affordable Housing Bond proposal

By Charles Elmore

Less than a month before the voting decision on Tuesday, November 8, Wellington Village Council heard a presentation on a plan that would require Palm Beach County voters to approve a bond issue to help developers build homes for the increasingly expensive to help the nascent middle class.

Borough voters will decide whether to pay for a $200 million bond issue to subsidize lower borrowing costs for affordable housing developers, versus other potential options, such as B. the collection of fees for builders of standard market housing.

For the average homeowner, the proposal would result in about $14 more in taxes per year, said Suzanne Cabrera, president and CEO of the Palm Beach County Housing Leadership Council. The non-profit organization was founded in 2006 by business and community leaders to address home affordability.

“It’s going to really help ensure we have spots for essential workers,” Cabrera said in a presentation to the council Tuesday, Oct. 11.

Such workers include, for example, teachers with salaries starting at $50,000, as well as police officers, firefighters, people who care for children and the elderly, and others, she said.

If approved, the bond money could form part of a larger strategy to build about 20,000 “workers” and affordable housing units in Palm Beach County over 10 years, Cabrera said.

The idea is to offer developers low-interest loans with interest rates ranging from zero to three percent, in a range that would cover both non-profit and for-profit builders.

In exchange, the developers would agree to maintain certain agreed lower rents and prices for 20 years.

Where will these units go? Cabrera said ideal locations would be on “major thoroughfares near work places,” citing areas served by rail in eastern Palm Beach County, for example. To the west, the Glades have the ability to add units, she said.

That touched on one of the concerns of a dissenting member of the Palm Beach County Commission, who voted 4-2 earlier this year to put the plan before voters. A no vote came from Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, who represents both western communities and the Glades. She wondered if raising taxes was a good idea at a time of inflation marked by high gas prices and other costs.

McKinlay said she “didn’t want to tax residents of western communities unless they would benefit from it.”

Before the vote, some in the county government questioned the heavy focus on a taxpayer-funded bond to the exclusion of other options.

The district could consider alternatives, such as fees charged to builders when building homes to be sold at full market prices, said Jonathan Brown, the district’s director of housing and economic development.

“We have to make sure what is being presented is transparent because there may be other options that are better,” he said, according to media reports.

Cabrera told Wellington Council that the imbalance between housing supply and demand in the county is overwhelming ordinary workers, and explained that developers need “incentives” like lower borrowing costs to justify affordable housing projects for investors.

Mayor Anne Gerwig, who serves on the board of the Housing Leadership Council, said she could reassure people there will be transparency on how the money is being used.

“Everything about it will be public,” Cabrera added.

Councilwoman Tanya Siskind said that educating voters on the bond issue was crucial.

“I think it’s important that we educate people because when they hear about affordable housing or workers’ housing, they get nervous,” she said. “They think it’s something it’s not. This is actually a funding mechanism that will be an incentive for developers.”

Someone would have to make $200,000 to $250,000 a year to afford the county’s median home price right now, Cabrera said.

Siskind phrased the suggestion as follows: “Would you like your teacher or firefighter in your community to live in your community for $14 a year? I think that makes people feel better.”

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