A bill intended to address Florida’s affordable housing crisis won easy approval in the Florida House Friday — but some fear it could lead to major new development in Key Biscayne. One of the measure’s key features is an override of local zoning laws on density and height.
The bill was a priority of Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-controlled state legislature. It offers $1.5 billion in tax credits and other incentives over the next decade to entice developers to build more housing, while also banning local governments from passing rent control measures. It passed 103-6 after gaining unanimous support in the state Senate.
Key Biscayne Mayor Joe Rasco, a former governmental affairs director and Village Manager Steve Williamson both traveled to Tallahassee. Rasco was pushing an exception for the island in a meeting with the legislation’s primary sponsor, Sen. Alexis Calatayud, who also represents Key Biscayne — but to no avail.
“We knew this was going to happen,” said a dejected Rasco. He said Calatayud and her House counterpart, Rep. Vicki Lopez, said Key Biscayne’s high property values would deter developers from trying to build affordable housing under the bill.
Rasco said Village lawyers are looking at the bill, but vowed the island would fight any new housing projects “tooth and nail.”
But in Tallahassee, Republicans and some Democrats were hailing the legislation, which now heads to Gov. DeSantis for signature. On the House floor during the final debate, Lopez recounted massive rental increases she faced at her Brickell condo, and urged colleagues to overlook any shortcomings.
“There is no perfect bill for goodness sakes. But I have been fighting for affordable housing for years,” she said. “Put aside your perfection, and let’s do something to bring relief immediately.”
Calatayud, a freshman lawmaker, took victory laps on Twitter, calling it “transformational,”
The Legislature’s staff analysis said that removing local zoning control would lessen bureaucracy and encourage developers, but there was no modeling or estimate of how many affordable units would be created or where. The legislation allows developers to bypass local zoning, density, and height rules with as few as 10% of units being designated as “affordable.”
In Key Biscayne, the focus immediately shifted to the island’s entry block, where a property once home to the Stefano’s nightclub and La Carreta restaurant has been undeveloped for years.
Council Member Ed London, a developer, said that parcel was the most likely for any potential workforce housing project, if an investor could build a tall-enough structure to make a project economically profitable. He said it could possibly include redeveloping the Harbor Plaza shopping center.
“Density makes all the difference,” London said. “If you could build a 25-story building there, and charge market rates for 90 percent of the units, it’s possible.”
The “Live Local Act” is just one of many bills in this year’s legislative session that strip local governments of power for policies state lawmakers disagree with. London said he’d been told there were dozens of bills.
“This is coming from the top,” said London, referring to the Governor.
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.