Letter: Commissioners rush to implement ‘inclusive zoning’ before term expires
Satirist JP Sears has a simple formula for “How to be a woke white person”: call other white people racist no matter what they do or say. That’s the rhetoric behind the proposed Gainesville dezoning — that selfish, affluent (not-in-my-backyard) white “nimbys” don’t want black neighbors. Along with trees and regulations as barriers, city documents since 2018 indicate that nimbys are also a major barrier to affordable housing in Gainesville.
But something is off about it. In the summer of 2017, the mayor said, “East Gainesville is not short of affordable housing, there is a glut of affordable housing in Gainesville. The problem is that everything is concentrated. News for many of us that anywhere has too much affordable housing.
The mysterious statement was a prelude to Lauren Poe’s preaching and moralizing about Jim Crow’s supposed, albeit illegal, segregation into “exclusion zoning”, contrasted with “inclusion zoning”. It’s a reworking of a 30-year-old theory from the Clinton administration to move a few people to more affluent neighborhoods. Only this version allows the City to pay developers to rent a few new apartments to people earning something less than the median income for a certain period. The municipal commission has already committed to paying a million dollars to a developer of downtown condos for unspecified durations. Poe and others also argue that building more apartments at market price will lower housing costs, but the opposite is happening despite several hundred new units in an unimaginative concrete boom.
Zoning is not and was not the problem, and dezoning or upzoning is not a solution. Financing is a hurdle, compounded by inflation and about to rise interest rates, and the biggest challenges that builders and remodelers face are labor costs and shortages and of materials. Additionally, the commission has approved three-story triplexes throughout the city, and the city has more than enough apartment zoning for decades to come. Zoning – at higher densities, intensities and heights – makes properties more expensive, not more affordable. It is a godsend for the owners but no one else.
Gainesville has a very low number of homeowners, and with recent events, evictions, foreclosures, inflation, insurance denials, bidding wars, corporate buyers and record house prices, people are stuck in the rent trap that sucks wealth out of the city for passive income from investors. . The City Commission for years ignored the advice of housing experts to make preserving existing housing the most urgent priority and to protect the city from upcoming Opportunity Zone tax relief projects. It has yet to follow up on a housing summit nearly four years ago.
Instead, the stubborn insistence on zoning may finally succeed with a majority of the commission before their term expires this year. They bought into the “inclusive” rhetoric and paid a New York consultant nearly half a million dollars to incorporate it into city code. Commissioners said things like, “People are terrified of losing their lifestyle” and “People are afraid of change.” Poe said the public needed to be educated to see the error of the racist and scary ways, while the commissioners were also ignoring the objections of respected black residents to the measures. Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker has researched and advocated for truly equitable development, not empty slogans.
After the article about the glut of affordable housing, another shows Poe with a helmet and a shovel during a groundbreaking for a UF-affiliated luxury student apartment complex. Elsewhere, he says the city and UF would create housing for UF faculty and staff between campus and downtown — in historically black neighborhoods where speculation, profiteering, gentrification and studentization have made housing costs beyond the reach of people of modest means.
The City and Gainesville Housing Authority, through its front organization, has demolished hundreds of low-income units which are now being replaced by expensive student flats on the Seminary Lane site – where they have promised such flats would never be built – and by $440,000 single-family HOA Homes on the former Kennedy Homes site (now known as Heartwood) at the cost of millions of dollars from the city and more in grants. On Thursday, four commissioners voted in favor of a memorandum of understanding to declare GHA the official housing partner of the city of Gainesville. Commissioner Reina Saco was absent and Commissioner Duncan-Walker voted no. Soon, the commission will also vote on new subsidies and development deregulation. In the name of affordable housing and anti-racism.
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