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Examining Florida’s Affordable Housing Law through the Miami Beach Project

Montreal-based developer Jesta Group recently announced plans for a towering 30-story residential building on Miami Beach’s Ocean Drive, sparking immediate opposition from local officials. Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber condemned the project, vowing to use legal avenues at city, state, and federal levels, along with the state legislature, to block it. Gelber argued that such a development would set a detrimental precedent and fundamentally alter the character of Ocean Drive.

This bold move by the developer is made possible by Florida’s newly enacted Live Local Act, designed to address the affordable housing crisis in the state. This legislation enables developers to bypass certain zoning restrictions for affordable and workforce housing projects, including alterations to height and density. Florida’s law surpasses similar regulations in other states by providing substantial incentives such as tax breaks, interest-free loans, and other benefits to developers who allocate at least 40% of their residential units as affordable or workforce housing for a minimum of 30 years.

To qualify, these units must be priced at less than 30% of 120% of the median household income, which translates to a starting point of $86,760 for a single-person household and $133,800 for a family of five in Miami-Dade. Additionally, developers can seek administrative approvals for zoning changes from local authorities, streamlining the approval process and potentially halving its duration.

While the Live Local Act garnered bipartisan support in the state legislature and was signed into law by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, it has faced criticism from members of local municipalities across party lines who feel their authority has been preempted. They argue that the law is necessary to counteract the often arduous approval processes that affordable and workforce housing projects face, which can be exacerbated by NIMBYism.

Related Urban Development Group, the affordable housing division of Miami-based developer Related Group, is moving forward with at least seven housing projects that rely on aspects of the Live Local Act. Similarly, lawyer Anthony De Yurre at Bilzin Sumberg is advising on 30 projects in Miami that are progressing under the new law. One developer, in response to the incentives, has transitioned from a previously approved 234-unit market-rate project to a denser 400-unit building with 40% allocated to workforce housing.

Despite the potential benefits, some Florida cities, like Doral, have taken steps to potentially hinder or delay these new housing proposals. Doral has implemented a six-month moratorium on new development, even though its industrial zones could be prime areas for the development of affordable or workforce housing without the need for additional zoning modifications.

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