What will Florida's 'Live Local Act' do for people in need of workforce housing?

 With a growing population throughout Florida, affordable housing can be challenging to find. Niceville is no exception.
The workforce population may now have a route to affordable rents and possibly home ownership: late in March, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 102, Housing, by Sen. Alexis Calatayud (R-Miami).

This legislation, titled Live Local Act, addresses workforce housing strategies that could help the people who work in traditionally lower-paying industries.
Local realtor Cathy Alley discussed this legislation and workforce housing challenges within the greater Niceville area, first addressing questions in an interview with Christopher Saul, and later in an interview with Sharon Dooley.

Alley also serves on the Niceville City Council. Still, her positions and information for this article, she said, are based on her experience as a realtor.

“I’m hoping that this bill is going to incentivize builders to build multifamily housing, because through this bill, they can get incentives if they provide a percentage to workforce housing,” Alley said.
“(Workforce housing),” Alley also said, “is the new catchphrase now, instead of affordable housing.

“We are talking about people who are in the workforce support industry,” she added.
The local workforce support industry finds most of its jobs based in Destin and South Walton, where tourism creates job opportunities. Workers at this industry level often can’t afford to live near their jobs, and workers find they have to live several miles away from their employment.

 

Niceville Councilwoman Cathy Alley
Niceville Councilwoman Cathy Alley
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In Okaloosa County, the best workforce housing options are located in the north sections of the county.

Niceville’s proximity to Destin could be a viable housing location, but Alley said a few factors keep housing prices high. One aspect includes the number of actual structures, single-family or multi-residency.

“So far in Niceville, a problem is that we don’t have any land,” she said, noting that land must be available to build. “To the north is the (Eglin Air Force Base) range, and to the south is water,”
Another concern, she continued, is “that you have to have builders, but the cost of construction being so high, and earth costing so much, they can’t afford to build.”
A few recent neighborhoods have been constructed within Niceville, featuring mini-homes of two bedrooms/two baths.

While these mini-homes provide housing, some come with monthly rental fees of up to $2,000, which could still be out of reach for a workforce family.
“It takes two people working in a household,” Alley said. “Then there’s child care costs.

“Across the country, we have a lack of workforce housing,” she added.

Again locally, Alley said, leaders must consider infrastructure before allowing more construction.

“If we ever had a major catastrophe, we have to get people out of here,” Alley said. “We just don’t have the infrastructure.”

By way of example, she discussed a mini-home development near Juniper Street in Niceville, near the Aldi grocery store.

“There will be an additional 140 cars on Juniper,” Alley said.
She also said that housing construction near Cedar Street adds cars, with concerns for; “trying to protect children and people as we’re dumping more cars on these roadways.”

The county bed tax provides funding for improved roads and traffic patterns. Still, anyone sitting in construction on Highway 20/John Sims Parkway knows that road work takes time.
Despite these challenges, Alley continued to say, projects are underway that could help with workforce housing.

An apartment complex in the Deer Moss Creek development area could offer to house to people who work in Destin. Its location near the Mid Bay Bridge connector, Spence Parkway, would alleviate the use of city-limit roads as people commute into Destin.

In addition, she said that Eglin Air Force Base holds viable housing land flanking the Mid Bay connector.

“Eglin is trying to put (military) housing on it, but nothing goes quickly with the government,” Alley said.

As Alley mentioned, the Live Local Act’s signing could offer builders financial incentives for providing workforce housing. The act also promotes financial assistance to those who qualify, allowing down payment assistance for teachers, health care workers, law enforcement, service members, and workers in other fields.

“The answer to the workforce housing crisis in our area is not an easy answer,” Alley said, adding that “when you have people who own homes, they achieve more than renters because they take pride in their homes.

“Through homeownership, children thrive more because there’s pride in the community,” she said.

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