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Summit: Lack of Affordable Homes in Palm Beach County at ‘Crisis’ Level

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More than 500 government officials, lenders and builders packed a ballroom at the Palm Beach County Convention Center Wednesday to come up with ideas on how to address a lack of affordable housing they say is hurting employee recruitment efforts and driving younger people to less expensive locations.

Turns out, they fretted, paradise is less idyllic if you’ve got to live with your parents or drive from Martin County because affording a place to live here is hieroglyphics hard.

There were more diagnoses than prescriptions, as speaker after speaker described the affordable housing problem as a “crisis” the county must address if it wants to retain its economic and cultural vitality.

“This is the most serious public policy issue we are facing within South Florida along with rising sea levels,” said Edward Murray, associate director of the Metropolitan Center at Florida International University.

“We are absolutely in a crisis,” said Craig Vanderlaan, executive director of Crisis Housing Solutions, a Davie-based housing support services firm. “That’s why we’re all here.”

Vanderlaan’s presentation, one of several from a range of finance, development and public policy officials, included a nugget that drew snickers and smiles in equal measure.

In reaching for a series of solutions to the affordable housing problem, Vanderlaan urged county leaders to think outside of the box by thinking about using a box — a shipping container, to be precise.

Re-purposed shipping containers have been used in building student housing in the Netherlands, a mall in London and veterans housing in Los Angeles, he said.

Might that mean containers along Okeechobee Boulevard or Military Trail?

“Look at ‘em like Lego blocks,” Vanderlaan said. “You can have fun with this. Millennials absolutely love this stuff.”

County Administrator Verdenia Baker smiled when asked about the prospect of container housing, but she didn’t laugh off the idea.

“I’m interested,” she said. “If they’re dressed properly, then, yes, why not?”

Baker, whose staff organized the summit at her direction, said ideas generated during the discussion — a more streamlined approval process for development, for example, and possibly more public-private partnerships — will be reviewed and posted on the county’s website in advance of future discussions about affordable housing.

The median gross rent of $1,900 in Palm Beach County is unaffordable for 80 percent of renters in the county, he said. The median single family home price of $327,000 is out of reach for 75 percent of county residents.

From 2010-2015, the percentage of homeowners in the county dropped by 1.6 percent. During that same time, the percentage of renters climbed by almost 25 percent.

Cisneros, HUD secretary during the Bill Clinton administration, said other regions like Silicon Valley in the San Francisco Bay Area, are also grappling with how to make an economically vibrant, attractive place to live an affordable place to live.

He said the county should continue to make plans to accommodate the growth that will continue coming its way.

“Those of you who know me, you know I’m never, never going away on this housing issue,” she said. “You might as well come willingly.”

Read the complete article as originally published May 31, 2017 in the Palm Beach Post

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