Senate passes update to Live Local Act with more clarity, preemption, Hometown Heroes funding
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 1/4/23-Sen. Alexis Calatayud, R-Miami, during the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security Committee, Wednesday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

The original law Gov. Ron DeSantis signed last March attracted national headlines for its boldness and implications.

An update to last year’s monumental Live Local Act to boost affordable housing is on its way to the House after clearing the Legislature’s upper chamber by a unanimous vote.

The measure (SB 328) includes new preemptions on local development controls and clearer details for how some projects should rise. It also includes special considerations for Florida’s southernmost county and a late-added exemption for short-term vacation rentals.

It was inevitable that the Live Local Act would need fine-tuning, said Miami Republican Sen. Alexis Calatayud, who carried the original legislation and the current measure.

“As we know, (with) the passage of large and complex policy, sometimes during implementation we learn about the need for minor adjustments,” she said Wednesday. “And that’s what we have with this legislation. We’ve received feedback from many stakeholders over the interim, and we have identified several necessary changes to help further this Senate’s intent of expanding access for our constituents to … workforce housing.”

The original law, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed last March, attracted national headlines for its boldness and implications.

It forces local governments to approve multifamily housing developments in areas zoned for commercial, industrial and mixed uses if the project sets aside 40% of its units at affordable rates, defined as offering rents within 30% of the local median income. The developments, in turn, would be required to adhere to a city or county’s comprehensive plan, except for density and height restrictions.

Developments built within five years and containing 70 or more units are eligible for property tax exemptions if they offer rents at least 10% below the local market rate. Cities and counties are also able to provide property tax exemptions to developments with 50 or more units that reserve 20% for affordable housing.

The law also provided $711 million for affordable housing programs, including $259 million for the State Apartment Incentive Loan Program (SAIL), $252 million for the State Housing Initiative Partnership (SHIP) and $100 million for the recently created Hometown Heroes Program, which helps income-qualified homebuyers purchase a first residential property.

SB 328 would “enhance” the existing law, Calatayud said, and further address “quality of life issues” for Florida residents.

If passed, the bill would:

— Prohibit local governments from restricting a development’s floor area ratio (the measure of a structure’s floor area compared to the size of the parcel it’s built upon) below 150% of the highest allowed under current zoning.

— Enable local governments to restrict the height of a proposed development to three stories or 150% of the height of an adjacent structure, whichever is taller, if the project is abutted on two or more sides by existing buildings.

— Clarifies that the Live Local Act’s allowances and preemptions do not apply to proposed developments within a quarter-mile of a military installation or in certain areas near airports.

— Requires each county to maintain on its website a list of its policy procedures and expectations for administrative approval of Live Local Act-eligible projects.

— Requires a county to reduce parking requirements by at least 20% for proposed developments located within a half-mile of a transportation hub and 600 feet of other available parking. A county must eliminate all parking requirements for proposed mixed-use residential developments within areas it recognizes as transit-oriented.

— Clarifies that only the units set aside for workforce and affordable housing in a qualifying development must be rentals.

— Requires 10 units rather than 70 to be set aside for affordable and workforce housing in Florida Keys developments seeking the “missing middle” tax exemption.

— Makes an additional on-time earmark of $100 million for the Hometown Heroes Program.

Through an amendment by Miami Republican Sen. Ileana Garcia, the measure would also prohibit Live Local Act tax breaks for properties or units used as short-term vacation rentals, such as through Airbnb and HomeAway.

“I want to make sure that opportunists do not take advantage of the affordable housing units we have provided to Floridians,” she said.

As developers started taking advantage of the original Live Local Act’s provisions, local governments across the state voiced outrage over what they decry as preemption compounded by the potential to warp their skylines with massive high-rises far denser and taller than any surrounding structure.

Several Democratic Senators echoed those concerns on the chamber floor Wednesday.

Kissimmee Sen. Vic Torres said that while he supported Calatayud’s update to the law, he worries it still lacks guardrails “with teeth” to punish bad actors and keep localities from being overrun with rampant development.

He noted that the tax breaks offered through the Live Local Act resemble those nonprofits receive for similar work, but with perhaps not as much accountability.

“That’s something we ought to look at,” he said. Because there’s a lot of money going into this.”

West Palm Beach Sen. Bobby Powell, an urban and regional planner by training now running for the Palm Beach County Commission, suggested the measure could lead to a proliferation of cheaper rental dwellings in industrial areas, where poorer residents could be at greater risk of health problems.

Calatayud said consumer demand should control for that issue, and when given the choice, consumers typically don’t want to live near industrial hubs where they are more likely to be exposed to emissions and be farther from commercial centers.

Moreover, she said, the cost burden is on the developers, who must adhere to environmental strictures.

“We’re not providing bailouts, so if someone builds something that no one wants to live in, that’s on them (and if) the most lucrative use of that area … is for industrial, they’re not going to want to sell for workforce housing,” she said.

“We also know that all of the environmental regulations that are required for multifamily construction are completely in place. If there are environmental concerns, that is part of the concurrency requirement that any building … would have to deal with before being able to provide any sort of occupancy.”

The House has reported receiving SB 328.

A similar companion measure (HB 1239) by Miami Republican Rep. Vicki Lopez advanced through the House State Affairs Committee on Wednesday with only Miami Democratic Rep. Ashley Gantt voting “no.” It has two more committee stops before reaching the House floor.


Gray Rohrer contributed to this report.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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