Planning and Zoning Commission Holds Public Forum on Affordable Housing

After months of intense research and preparation, the Town of Lake City Planning and Zoning Commission presented their Workforce and Affordable Housing Forum June 6 in the Armory multi-purpose meeting room.
Speaker and Planning and Zoning Commission Chair Andy Dozier began the well-attended forum by introducing the commission, which consists of Doug Hamel, Karen McClatchie, Mary Nettleton, Ron Jones and himself. He also introduced Mayor Bruce Vierheller and Town Manager Caroline Mitchell, who, he explained, frequently attend the commission meetings.
Dozier launched into the presentation by asking the simple question, “Does Lake City need workforce and affordable housing? That is the topic for tonight,” he said. He explained that the meeting, likely to be the first of many, was merely a fact-finding mission. “To date, we have made no changes, no permanent decision about any housing, any codes, about any of the details we will be talking about tonight,” he said. “We are here because we want your input.”
Dozier explained that he did not want to discuss with the audience “any details that are not yet pertinent,” such as zoning or funding. Instead, he said he wanted to hear general thoughts and feedback regarding, “Should we? That is the big question. Can we? Is the next logical question,” he said.
Dozier defined workforce housing as well as affordable housing with a similar definition; the terms, he said, are generally used to refer to properties that are designed to be attainable to members of the local workforce whose income is at or below the average income of a given work area.
“Housing is generally considered affordable when the monthly payment, rent or mortgage, is about 30 percent of a household’s gross income,” he said.
Dozier explained that a big problem is Lake City doesn’t have a workforce housing market, or an affordable housing market. “One of the complications we have here in Lake City is the extreme number of second home owners.” He made a point to stress that he was grateful for the second homeowners. “They keep this town alive,” he said. “What we are talking about is not diminishing their experience with Lake City, it is improving opportunities for the year-round residents and business owners. I think it’s safe to say that most of the second homeowners in town make substantially more than the average year-round Lake City resident. That skews the 30 percent number. If our neighbor is making $200,000 a year, 30 percent of that is $60,000. Many full-time Lake City residents don’t make that in a year, and we certainly cannot spend that on rent or mortgage.”
Dozier went on to say it was his opinion, and the reason the Planning and Zoning Commission called the meeting, that more than anything, Lake City needs more workforce and affordable housing.
“Let me put this in perspective for you,” he said. “If you are a single income household, and you make $19 an hour, working full-time, and you put 10 percent down on a $230,000 home, you will hit that 30 percent number.” The problem, he said, is coming up with the 10 percent; most people do not have the savings for that.
Dozier made the point that one of the ironies of the housing and homeownership of America, and specifically Lake City, is that the people who build the houses – carpenters, plumbers, roofers, etc., are among those least able to afford to own or even rent the houses they build. “The service industry, like restaurants and gas stations, but also teachers and town employees, are in the same situation,” he said. “They serve the community but are often unable to afford a home in the community they work in.”
He explained that while there is a small population in Lake City, there is a high demand for second home ownership here. “According to some of the literature,” he said, “our county boasts the second highest percentage of second homes in the nation.”
While there are many existing homes in and around Lake City, most of them are occupied only on a seasonal basis. “Those seasonal homes don’t drive a flourishing year-round economy,” Dozier said. “Due to the popularity of Lake City and the constant re-selling of homes, that has raised housing costs. The homes that are available as rentals mostly provide short-term lodging for visitors at rates higher than the local workforce can afford. So while there is a strong residential construction market here, there simply isn’t enough affordable housing for the working class.”
Dozier pointed out that there are many businesses owners in town who want to expand their business or start a new business, and without the housing to support the workforce, they are unable to attract enough permanent staff to expand operations and, in-turn, grow the local economy. “At the same time,” he said, “there are not enough dollars being generated under current conditions to make it worth investing in new housing at today’s cost to build. It’s this never-ending cycle that we would like to help to break.”
Dozier went on to say that the Planning and Zoning Commission wants help to come up with ideas that could help encourage growth, such as creating public and private initiative, possibly building small infill parcels or spec housing, examining zoning ordinances that need to be updated, and generating interest for landowners and building owners to invest in rental properties as well as affordable residential homes. “There are a lot of options, and we feel like it is time to start looking at them,” Dozier said.
Increased business activity, Dozier said, could create jobs, and the additional housing that would be built could attract new home buyers and renters. “In turn, more people move to town, more people eat out, buy groceries, buy gas, pay taxes. If the existing businesses have housing for their staff, the staff would both make and spend money. If they make money, they rent or buy houses. Now, instead of having an economy that is stuck on deadlock, only maintaining its existence, we have an economy that is starting to grow.”
Dozier finished off the presentation by saying, “There are a lot of moving parts that must work together because they are so interdependent. But I can tell you this – if we do nothing, nothing changes.”
A second meeting has not yet been scheduled, but will be announced in SILVER WORLD as soon as possible. Call the Town of Lake City at 970-944-2333 for more information or to give input or feedback to the Planning and Zoning Commission.