Business Forum- Housing in Palm Beach County

By Sammy Alzofon

Housing in Palm Beach County

A key concern in Palm Beach County revolves around housing.  Member Sammy Alzofon will be reporting on housing issues for LWVPBC. Below, read the first of her reports.

Monday, June 12, 2017
Business Forum Meeting

Speaker: Richard Reikenis, https://www.reikenis.com/
Facilitator: Joe Rooney

 

Economic Council of Palm Beach County

This forum meeting was to hear a summation of the May 31, 2017 Housing Summit convened by Verdenia Baker, Palm Beach County administrator.

Rick Reikenis, as guest speaker, noted a number of items, directed at those present who had not attended the summit. These included:

  • A description of the formation of the task force appointed before the summit to do most of the planning.
  • Acknowledgment that the topics were wide-ranging, from homelessness to workforce housing.
  • Many misconceptions were thrown out in the process, particularly the numbers of housing units needed, at an affordable cost, e.g. 160,000 families pay more than 30% of their income for housing.
  • Recap of the keynote speaker’s points, including a definition of what makes a house a home and the need to redefine the meaning of infrastructure to include housing.

Conversation made up the bulk of the meeting, beginning with Joe Rooney reminding everyone that the Florida legislature will convene early next year, in January, so planning for Palm Beach County needs has started.

Laurel Robinson was commended for the work that is being done with the housing development to replace Dunbar Village. She also offered more insight on the Summit presentation of housing constructed from shipping containers. She noted that they are bunker-like in terms of ability to withstand hurricanes and present no major issues – West Palm Beach already has shipping container structures and the group concurred that areas around downtown, where millennials want to live, would be perfect for this type of affordable construction, although Laurel cautioned that the container construction is not necessarily inexpensive. Possible sites could be the West Palm Beach warehouse district.

It was noted again, as at the Summit, that land options should not focus on sites west of the turnpike, particularly gated communities. These options necessitate large transportation costs as well as community maintenance charges. Focusing on areas like the warehouse district or empty shopping centers, with regard for a family where both adults are working, could conceivably allow dispensing with ownership of two vehicles, resolving not only transportation expense but the ever-growing traffic issues in the county.

While it also was again noted that Palm Beach County can’t bear the burden of housing, developers can’t bear the burden of affordable housing construction either. It is incumbent on the county to work alongside cities and their organizations, e.g. League of Cities, various Chambers of Commerce, financing sources, as well as the School District, to inventory available public land that is not in use. Everyone agreed that “there is no appetite” for funding housing at either the state or federal level. As Laurel pointed out, this problem must be dealt with “in this room.” And this is not to say that work isn’t being done: the cities of Jupiter, West Palm Beach, and Boynton Beach have housing projects in progress.

The biggest project: to restructure the way we’ve been thinking.

 

The county is happy with the outcome of the Summit and a report is expected from Verdenia Baker quite soon: Next Steps.

The initial steering committee will be expanded as the planning work advances.

 

Talk then turned to other local issues:

  • The late legislative funding for Visit Florida was noted, saying that its initial absence had already brought other states into Florida to promote their tourist opportunities.
  • The bed tax was briefly discussed and the numbers for April of this year given. It was noted that the large numbers of public servants using hotel rooms in that month significantly impacted bed tax collection.
  • Lastly, the not-yet-resolved issue of removing 32 acres from the Wellington Preserve, for primarily hotel development, was discussed. The discussion focused on the need to inform those in opposition of the needs that business development in the western communities will meet, and how to do this.