We Got Into An Invite-Only Affordable Housing Summit In Niceville. This Is What We Learned About The Local Housing Crisis:

local government, developers, and industry leaders convened for a housing summit in Okaloosa and Walton Counties. Hosted by OCHIP, WCHIP, and the Emerald Coast Association of Realtors, the summit focused on affordable housing challenges and solutions. Discussions highlighted the impact of housing costs on residents' quality of life and the collaborative efforts needed to address these issues.

In Brief:

  • Local leaders and industry experts gathered for a housing summit in Okaloosa and Walton Counties, focusing on affordable housing.
  • Discussions highlighted the significant impact of housing costs on residents’ quality of life and health.
  • The summit explored collaborative solutions, including development incentives and the Live Local Act, to address housing challenges.

Local government, developers, and relevant industry leaders collaborated in an all-day event to discuss various topics surrounding housing in Okaloosa and Walton Counties. The summit provided the opportunity to discuss affordable housing to these respective areas. 

The housing summit was hosted by the Okaloosa County Health Improvement Partnership (OCHIP)Walton Community Health Improvement Partnership (WCHIP), and the Emerald Coast Association of Realtors. When housing becomes an issue for locals, it can provide a situation where residents struggle to live a healthy and fulfilled life. 

Housing-related costs can often force families to choose between food, heating, and other basic needs, such as healthcare. A lack of housing choices can limit residents to neighborhoods that do not offer amenities such as parks, bike paths, and other recreational activities that promote health.

RELATED: Okaloosa County Commissioners May Buy This Piece of Niceville Area Land for Affordable Housing.

Picture a room at the Niceville Community Center. Elected officials, non-profits, military housing authorities, providers serving the homeless, Realtors, developers, city council, healthcare agencies, and public safety individuals gather and begin their day speaking with local non-profits and prepare to spend the day discussing data and human needs. 

Throughout the day, there will be speakers, panels, and open discussions on a complicated topic that is not resolved by solving one problem. 

It will be a collaborative effort to come up with ideas, but then to follow up, regroup, and put a plan together to implement these ideas. The morning began with United Way Emerald Coast presenting to the group what group may most be affected by a lack of affordable housing. ALICE, an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, and Employed, is a community member who earns just above the Federal Poverty Level but less than what it costs to make ends meet. While there is not one specific definition for affordable housing, discussing how to provide affordable housing would be to take our AMI (Area Median Income) and determine what affordable housing costs when this cost does not exceed 30% of said income. The Area Median Income for Okaloosa County is $96,900. That means the cost for ‘affordable’ housing would sit at $29,070 – or $2,422 per month. 

Creating Affordable Housing

So how do we do this? 

By the end of the summit a few ideas were brought up. 

Developers want all the free money and incentives that they can get. 

The city wants to charge developers as much as possible to ensure they can deliver resources and amenities to residents. 

For developers to build affordable housing (by the above definition), their costs have to be low enough to charge residents rents that achieve this goal. 

However, towns need funds to provide developers with what they’ll need, such as utilities tapped to their properties. If the city cannot or does not provide shovel-ready land to developers, that is, land that has access to utilities already installed, the developers must build them – and pass the cost on to the homebuyer. Again, it’s not that simple, but this does give you an idea of what challenges are faced when trying to provide much-needed housing to our area. 

One tool we have in Florida is the Live Local Act (LLA). The LLA is a comprehensive, statewide attainable housing strategy designed to increase the availability of affordable housing opportunities to Florida residents who desire to live within the communities they serve. 

RELATED: Niceville Police Chief Suggests Free Housing for Cops Among Recruitment Crisis.

Developers would be eligible for a 75% or 100% ad valorem tax exemption when rent restrictions are metIt also provides that developers’ requests for permits and zoning are pushed to be expedited in order for the multi-family housing to be built in a timely manner. 

This is just a brief explanation and you can find more information at floridahousing.org. 

Other ideas included fast-tracking zoning and variance requests for those who seek to build affordable housing. While this can be an excellent tool for a builder to move the project along this still does require time for planning and construction. Ideas that can help improve the situation in the short term would be to approach blighted and undeveloped lot owners and work on revitalization opportunities.

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