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Sarasota Thursday, Mar. 12, 2020 1 year ago

Make a law and voila!

Sarasota city commissioners once again defied logic. While supporting the smart move to allow residential uses in commercial zones, they spoiled the idea with counterproductive regulations.
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

They defy comprehension — Sarasota Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch, Vice Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie and Commissioner Willie Shaw.

You don’t want to resort to name calling, but the decisions they often make compel you to say: “They can’t be that stupid, can they?”

No, this isn’t another lashing on the Bobby Jones Golf Club fiasco. The newest lulu came Monday night when those three commissioners voted to change city zoning in a way that now will allow mixed uses in commercially zoned districts, specifically allowing residential and hotel units to be built on the upper floors of commercial buildings.

That’s a great move.

One of the prime examples where that could be applied is at Midtown Plaza, which houses Michael’s On East and the now-vacant grocery store. Its owners want to build a hotel on the grocery store site to help cater to families with loved ones in nearby Sarasota Memorial Hospital. It’s needed.

All five commissioners, including commissioners Liz Alpert and Hagen Brody, favored the mixed-use concept. But what followed spoiled the whole thing.

Ahearn-Koch, Freeland Eddie and Shaw voted in a series of government mandates with the intent of helping solve the city’s lack of affordable housing. Here are the provisions:

  • The maximum height allowed in these commercial zones will increase from 45 to 65 feet.
  • If, say, a developer wants to build a hotel on the site that exceeded 45 feet in height, the developer would be required to pay $5,000 for every additional foot into a government-run affordable housing trust fund. If, say, the developer wanted to build up to 65 feet, that would cost the developer a $150,000 contribution to the trust fund.
  • If the developer wants to build apartments on the upper floors of the site, the developer would be required to build one unit of affordable housing for every three market-rate units.

And along with building those affordable residential units, the developer would be required to sign 30-year agreements with the city that will provide for the policing of the tenants’ annual incomes and the landlord’s rental rates, so they don’t exceed government-mandated limits.

So there you go: Whatever the problem, wave the government regulatory wand, and voila! Government can fix anything.

Now we’re going to presume that Ahearn-Koch, Freeland Eddie and Shaw know full well these new government-mandated provisions are not going to solve the city’s severe lack of affordable housing. But they obviously believe these do-good  mandates can help the cause.

And that’s the mystery. That’s the part that defies comprehension — how they can be convinced that government intervention is smarter and better than the innovation of free enterprise.

Who would ever think that creating an affordable housing “trust fund” controlled by the government is going to produce great results? We all know the joke about government trust funds: How’s that Social Security trust fund working out?

Indeed, where have government mandates ever solved a community’s lack of affordable housing?

Show us an instance when government intervention into the housing market has resulted in increased supplies of affordable housing.

Sure, you can point to all kinds of government-subsidized housing projects. But that’s just what they are — affordable housing that came about because the government took from one and gave to another. It extracted more money from certain groups of taxpayers, so it could provide a below-market-rate benefit to others.

Our own columnist, Adrian Moore, vice president of the Reason Foundation, has written on several occasions on this page how the practice of requiring certain numbers of affordable housing in housing developments actually has the opposite effect of what is desired.

Instead of creating increased supplies of affordable housing, these policies lead to fewer homes and apartments being built and homebuilders having to charge more than they otherwise would to average homebuyers, so the homebuilders can build the lower-priced homes and still make a reasonable profit.

Moore: “The recipe for affordable housing is to deregulate markets for land and allow market-driven densities and development, especially in the suburbs. It means getting rid of costly elements, such as building codes that serve arcane interests rather than measurably improving public health and safety. All those do is result in higher home prices."

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