Prodded by tales of hardship, Palm Beach County OKs affordable housing moves

By June 17, 2011April 15th, 2014No Comments

January 27, 2009. Palm Beach Post.

WEST PALM BEACH — One by one, the stories of hardship spilled out before the Palm Beach County commissioners, as community leaders and church officials urged attention to the need for affordable homes.

“If any of your windows face east, you must see people lined up, coming to us for a bag of groceries,” Sister Mary Oliver Hudon of St. Ann Catholic Church told the board this morning at a workshop meeting on affordable housing.

The church has seen thousands of people come through its doors over the past year who are homeless, working full- or part-time or living on disability checks, she said – people who cannot afford a place to live. “They’re people who are trying their best and they cannot make it.”

The board instructed county staff to move forward with Affordable Housing Advisory Committee recommendations to speed development of housing for rental and ownership. Commissioners also told their employees to work toward building a trust fund that would supply local money required to receive matching housing funds from the state and federal governments.

Commissioner Burt Aaronson urged staff to move fast and look for ways to use land owned by the county for affordable housing development.

“Otherwise, with the price of land, I don’t know how builders can do it, even if you waive impact fees,” he said.

Developers in the audience urged commissioners to exempt or reduce impact fees for workforce housing, and to streamline or remove county requirements that make it hard to build houses at prices that the salespeople, cashiers, office clerks and others who make up much of the county’s workforce can afford.

Commissioner Jeff Koons said the housing shortage is urgent despite the fact that the recession has put large numbers of homes on the market. The county lost more than 15,000 rental units over the past seven years due to condo conversions, he noted, citing a report from the Regional Business Alliance.

The auditorium and hallways were packed with more than 150 people for the session in the county’s downtown headquarters, many of them from a multi-denominational group called PEACE, for People Engaged in Active Community Effort.

Some told the board about children forced to spend the night with friends because parents had no place to house them. Others spoke of cramped quarters and increasing marital stress and family violence among parishioners coming undone by housing costs.

“When you’ve got 130 people in line for breakfast during the week and they’re not at work, you’ve got a tremendous problem,” Bishop Randy Hightower told commissioners. “They need to be able to afford a home, even when they’re making $40,000 a year.”