Florida city approves new affordable housing plan
Officials in Lakeland, Fla., are hoping they've found a strategy to lure private developers to build affordable single-family homes and apartments in the city.
The Lakeland Community Redevelopment Agency approved the first draft of a plan to sell off surplus land in hopes of creating more affordable housing.
Alis Drumgo, the CRA's executive director, said city staff identified about 80 city- and CRA-owned properties to put into an Affordable Housing Land Bank. The land bank will allow builders and developers to purchase parcels to construct single-family homes or multifamily rentals.
"The question is how can we better market these buildable lots to obtain new residential units for affordable housing and add as many units as we can," he said. "We anticipate it will help reduce the vacant and blighted lots in the community."
More than half of the parcels to be sold are clustered in midtown Lakeland, an area north of Lake Wire between Kathleen Road east to U.S-98. The lots range in size from 0.01 to 13.22 acres.
Drumgo said the city will sell the land for 120% of its assessed value as determined by the Polk County Property Appraiser's office. The buyer will pay $1,000 immediately and the remainder of the land's cost will become placed as 10-year lien against the property, forgiven at 10% each year its owner maintains occupancy or keeps it as an affordable multi-family rental.
The aim is to sell or rent all the housing built to people who make up to 120% of the city's average median income, which is $69,840 for a family of four or $48,960 for a family of two.
There's additional incentive for developers to sell to low- to moderate-income families.
Brian Rewis, the city's assistant director of Community & Economic Development, said a developer can apply to have all non-utility impact fees waived by the city once the finished housing is sold to qualified individuals, saving an estimated $15,000 to $16,000 a single-family home.
"That's a pretty significant value in dollars going back to the developer," Rewis said.
Lakeland native Eric Greenhow, a local builder, said he's interested in the pilot program and has his sights set on several properties. He asked whether the single-family homes could be built and possibly rented to Section 8 public housing tenants.
"The intent is for homeownership," Annie Gibson, the city's housing program supervisor, said.
Greenhow said he's concerned what could happen if he built an affordable house but was unable to find a qualified buyer who could secure a mortgage.
"We're committed to helping a developer when it does happen," Rewis said. "It will happen."
The city will work with Keystone Challenge Fund to identify income-qualified homebuyers through its homeownership classes and assistance programs, Rewis said.
City staff said they received more than 500 phone calls from individuals inquiring about purchasing a Lincoln Square home, a set of 21 affordable single-family homes built on the site of Lincoln Square Apartments. The last family moved in during December, but the calls are still coming in.
The pilot program is expected to go before the City Commission for approval at its Feb. 17 meeting.