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Members of a DeLand task force brought the topic of workforce housing to the City Commission with one core message: More needs to be done to make sure DeLandites can afford a place to live. 

The working group is composed of city staff, members of the local nonprofit organization Mid-Florida Housing Partnership, and other volunteers. The group meets on an irregular schedule.

Solomon Greene, a DeLand Realtor and task-force member, presented data to the City Commission at an April 26 workshop.

The numbers, Greene said, aren’t great. 

“This is data we compiled before COVID, and it’s gotten worse,” he said.

According to the pre-pandemic data, 50 percent of DeLand residents are considered housing-cost burdened.

Citywide, costs are up and housing options are down.

“As of today, in all of the City of DeLand, there [are] 67 houses on the market,” Greene said. “The median price for those houses is $309,000. We are at an all-time record for lowest number of houses available and an all-time record for the median sales price of houses.”

With costs rising, fears abounded at the workshop that DeLand isn’t doing enough to house the people who already live here.

“We’re not accommodating those that put us here,” City Commissioner Jessica Davis said. “I just want to make sure we figure out a way … we need to be creative.”

All definitions were presented to the DeLand City Commission as part of the Workforce Housing Workshop.

  • Low-income housing — Housing for households with income of less than 50 percent of an area’s median income. In DeLand, this is $21,250, according to the workforce housing task force.

  • Cost-burdened — A household spending more than 30 percent of their income for housing.

  • Affordable housing — Housing is considered affordable if a household is not exceeding 30 percent of its income to pay for housing. 

  • Workforce housing — Housing for households with income between 50 percent and 120 percent of our area’s median income of $42,500. In DeLand, “workforce” households have income between $21,250 and $51,000.

What can the City Commission do?

Mike Holmes, DeLand’s planning director and also a member of the working group, proposed some ideas to create more affordable housing in DeLand. 

One possible solution: Get creative with what housing looks like. 

DeLand’s own planning and zoning regulations have led to development after development that look about the same: single-family homes on 40-foot-wide lots.

Holmes and the task force suggested the City Commission consider new approaches, from tiny homes to rehabilitation of existing properties, like empty office space above Downtown DeLand shops.

Cobb Cole attorney Mark Watts, another member of the working group, said getting especially creative with solutions for the workforce-housing shortage would require more flexible zoning codes.

The City of Sanford, Watts explained, has a special exception for urban infill redevelopment. When developers want to build on vacant lots already surrounded by development, or on previously developed land, the city will consider exceptions to its zoning guidelines.

noun: new buildings constructed in the space available between existing structures.

— Merriam Webster Dictionary

Go ahead, take the first step

But, to truly solve the city’s lack of workforce housing, Watts told city commissioners, there is no silver bullet. Watts’ message to commissioners was to take the first step, however daunting the larger problem may seem.

“It’s not going to be one of these solutions, it’s going to be all of these solutions, and figuring out how to put them all together,” he said. “Let’s take action on some of these issues. I think the problem just gets worse if you don’t put some of these things into action.”

DeLandite and general contractor Ken Goldberg urged commissioners to examine the regulations in place. 

“We use government-speak, things like workforce housing, affordable housing; really, what we’re looking for is housing opportunities, and let’s face it, bedrooms are for human beings, and people gotta go where people gotta go,” Goldberg said. “… Let’s face it, 1960s Euclidean zoning has its roots in exclusion, exclusion of lower economic classes and racial minorities. Plain and simple, that’s why it was created, and we all know it.”

As City Commissioner Chris Cloudman pointed out, the Golden Girls — characters in a television show about four unrelated women living under one roof to save on living expenses — couldn’t live in DeLand. 

Under current rules, only two unrelated individuals are allowed to live together. 

Some policies, like that one, may just be outdated, task-force members recognized.

Examples of regulations that may need to change: 

  • policies mandating who can live together

  • regulations prohibiting the building of accessory dwelling units on the same lot as an existing home

  • the requirement that a single-family home have a garage.

City commissioners were receptive to the ideas, especially those relaxing limits on accessory dwelling units — like mother-in-law suites, carriage houses, etc. — and loosening regulations on redevelopment in line with the City of Sanford’s policy.

According to the City of DeLand’s workforce-housing working group, a number of factors are to blame for the lack of affordable housing.

The housing-market crash in the late 2000s hampered the development of workforce housing.

Overbuilding in the lead-up to the recession led to a glut of empty homes once the market crashed. In the following years, more cautious building led to where we are now, according to Realtor Solomon Greene, a member of the Workforce Housing Task Force.

“We are now at peak demand and minimum supply,” Greene said, “with builders simply unable to either build enough homes fast enough, or build at an ‘affordable’ price point for low- to middle-income buyers.”

As costs continue to rise, land-development regulations remain restrictive, and more well-to-do individuals move to the area, affordable housing continues to drift out of the reach of many.

NIMBYism. NIMBY or “not in my backyard,” is a mindset characterizing individuals who support ideas in theory, but not necessarily in practice, or anywhere near their homes. Many agree that cities need more workforce and affordable housing, but try to build it near their homes, and their hackles go up.

DeLand attorney Mark Watts told DeLand city commissioners he wants people to think differently. At an April 26 workshop on workforce housing, he suggested a new acronym: YIMBY, or “Yes, in my backyard.”

Watts said he got the idea from the organization Orlando YIMBY.

“Their specific purpose as an organization is to come out and advocate for projects that create flexibility, projects that create opportunity for housing, projects that create opportunities for affordability and sustainability,” he said. Watts added, “That’s a key component, as well, having advocates that will come out and say ‘We want these things,’ even if they might be a little difficult; might take a little getting used to.”

The city itself may have to get involved to provide enough affordable housing

With so many impediments preventing developers building affordable housing, DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar said — including impact fees and market demand — he wants to consider the city doing something itself.

As Apgar approaches the end of his last term as DeLand’s mayor — he has said he does not intend to run in 2022 — he wants to help members of the community, no matter their age or economic status, to enjoy living in a place of their own.

“In my remaining 18 months, I’d like to see some direction and solution. From my perspective and what I know, it’s going to take an investment by the city to help make this happen. It’s not going to happen because of the efforts of the private sector,” Apgar said. “I hope we can all roll up our sleeves, be creative, and find ways to make this happen in some way that makes sense for the community and everyone.”

NUMBERS DON’T LIE — Data surrounding DeLand’s housing is shown above. This data was presented as part of a presentation by a working group aiming to combat the city’s lack of affordable housing. The working group is composed of city staff, as well as locals from a number of backgrounds.

The market won’t provide solutions anytime soon

If something doesn’t change, the problem may get worse. 

“Prices will not moderate until either enough new homes are built to meet demand, building material prices come down significantly, or demand decreases due to a slowdown in people moving to the area,” Solomon Greene told The Beacon. “Unfortunately for cost-burdened families, none of these scenarios seem likely in the foreseeable future.”

Changes to regulations are already underway

DeLand Community Development Director Rick Werbiskis told The Beacon the city staff has begun drafting changes to the city’s accessory-dwelling standards, and is examining standards for multifamily housing in the Downtown DeLand area.

Proposed changes to these policies, as well as changes to the standards for infill development and redevelopment, will likely come before the City Commission in the coming months.

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