RPB Council Discusses County’s Workforce Housing Shortage

The Royal Palm Beach Village Council

It is probably easier to find a job in Palm Beach County than it is to find affordable housing.

At the Royal Palm Beach Village Council meeting on Thursday, June 1, Councilman Jeff Hmara reported on the Palm Beach County Housing Summit held the previous day.

The summit was held at the Palm Beach County Convention Center and was attended by more than 500 people. A considerable amount of the conversation was on affordable housing.

“It was standing room only, and there were chairs along the back of the room,” Hmara said. “A lot of those folks are lenders and bankers, investors. We were talking about the topic of affordable housing and workforce housing… The bottom line to this was trying to find and share information from these different stakeholders in this process of trying to create a larger set of affordable housing here in Palm Beach County.”

Hmara said the median value of the county’s housing stock is $327,000, which 75 percent of workers can’t afford. The average monthly rent is about $1,900, which 80 percent of the workforce can’t afford.

“What that does is push everybody to other places, hoping that they are willing to do the drives back and forth to still work here,” Hmara said. “That’s not a great economic growth situation… If nothing else, I walked away with a sense of how complex the issue is.”

Hmara also developed a sense of what developers have to go through in order to line up financing and deal with rules and regulations at the federal, state and local levels.

Part of the discussion dealt with the idea of using products like shipping containers as a quick-erect process to build affordable workforce housing.

“It’s almost like a Lego-type of condos,” Hmara said. “I can’t imagine that fitting in really well here, but the idea was that some creativity is probably appropriate. We will probably be looking at various ideas to be able to make something happen in order to create a more affordable set of housing.”

Hmara said a discussion at a recent Palm Beach County League of Cities meeting stressed that those at the municipal level need to stay aware of the county’s affordable housing program.

“It appears that the county does have some unilateral authority that they could actually establish an affordable housing situation within municipalities’ boundaries, and they aren’t really required to coordinate with us, so that’s a good thing to keep an eye on as we go forward,” he said.

Village Attorney Jennifer Ashton said the way that the county’s workforce housing program is currently structured, there is a workforce housing requirement, and developers have the option to build the units onsite, buy out of the units or build them somewhere else.

“One of the somewhere elses could be your village,” Ashton said. “The county negotiates all that by a contract. This council and village staff are not involved in that process. You aren’t aware of it until after it happens, so Councilman Hmara is right, we need to keep an eye on that.”

Ashton said municipalities must be proactive to make sure they are at least notified and aware of what’s going on within their boundaries.

Mayor Fred Pinto noted that type of development would have to be on property that is available, and the village is near its buildout. However, Ashton said it could occur in a redevelopment situation.

“If you have a big developer with multiple projects going on in the county, they can shift units back and forth between developments to meet all of their workforce housing requirements, and you may not know that it’s happening,” she said.

Pinto asked what the median value of housing in Royal Palm Beach is, and Hmara said it’s between $231,000 and $280,000, according to different real estate web sites.

Pinto said that Royal Palm Beach has been known for many years as a place where the affordable housing demand was being met.

“Our village has one of its attributes as being a place where people can still find what we call a starter home and move from there,” Pinto said. “The market is going higher and higher, and of course it floats us higher as well, but at least in past years, that has been one of the characteristics about our village.”

Hmara said the summit also stressed the importance of having a spectrum of different prices, especially for a family-oriented community such as Royal Palm Beach.

“We want to welcome and make available the kind of accommodations necessary for young families all the way up through others who are financially in a different place or a different stage of their lives,” he said. “Having that spectrum, and I do think we have that here, makes us very attractive and in a good position.”

Pinto said that the council should discuss affordable housing more thoroughly, along with the various programs available to those in need of assistance.