Affordable housing has become such a stigmatized term in Flagler County and Palm Coast, connoting—usually falsely—poorer tenants, renters, apartment dwellers or subsidized housing, that local officials like Helga van Eckert, the county’s economic development director, are urging those involved in the industry to move away from words like “affordable housing.”
One idea, the Chamber of Commerce’s Lea Stokes said, is to call it “diverse housing options.” Another was this morning’s Common Ground breakfast hosted by the chamber and moderated by Stokes: a panel discussion featuring local officials at the heart of development issues, from the private and public sector, offering broad insights into the lack of affordable housing in the county, some of the sources of the stigma, and potential ways to improve matters.
The Chamber’s Common Ground breakfasts–the work of the Chamber’s Gretchen Smith–have over the past two years become uniquely instructive forums by focusing discussions by diverse panels on specific issues of immediate concerns to cities and the county. Government and association boards individually are having frequent discussions on affordable housing, but today’s panel, ostensibly addressing planning and development in general, provided the public an unprecedented perspective on the issue across jurisdictions and industries. (While several county commissioners and Flagler Beach city commissioners were present, however, as they usually are, other key policy makers, including all five Palm Coast City Council members, were absent, as they usually have been from these Common Ground gatherings.)
What all the panelists agreed on is that there’s a lack of affordable housing in the county and in Palm Coast, that the prejudice against affordable housing is grounded more in fear than in fact, that there are solutions possible, especially if Palm Coast and the county were to allow for looser development standards that would enable more dense and taller developments, and that the city is forging ahead with such developments in two zones already specified for them, even without looser development standards.
But present conditions are not favorable. It’s a matter of debate whether the current housing shortage is at a crisis point. But defining the degree of the problem may itself be beside the point. There’s little doubt that a problem exists.
Memory Hopkins of Memory Hopkins Real Estate, the current president of the Flagler County Realtors Association, spoke of the larger housing picture in the county: “As I travel up and down I-95, the benefit that Palm Coast and Flagler County has is that we’re still affordable, although that’s becoming a challenge for some of our folks. But we’re new, you can get a bigger, nicer home here than our neighboring counties for the same kind of money,” Hopkins said. But she noted that the median sale price for the third quarter of this year for a single-family house in Flagler is $220,000. That’s up 10 percent over the previous year, and it’s having consequences for those who can’t afford those prices.
“Although we say we are still affordable compared to our neighboring counties, $220,000, $250,000 is getting expensive for folks working in the service industries,” Hopkins said. “A lot of the folks, their income in our area is now not allowing them to buy a home and let alone buy, rents are way up. So it’s getting very expensive to rent a home here. That is pushing people out of the area and going further west and out into other locations.”
Inevitably though, need for affordable housing butts up against steep resistance, specifically from homeowners in single-family homes—ironically, the sort of residents who cause the steepest impacts on the environment and roads, the sort of impacts for which those very homeowners usually blame apartment renters.
Charlie Faulkner, a development consultant and one of the panelists, gave some historical perspective to the issue, dating back to the time before Palm Coast became a city when a six-month moratorium on multi-family projects was imposed. He spoke of the stigma against “this horrible thing referred to as apartments,” or multi-family development, in a different context: “Whenever you use that term, you should never add the word ‘project’ to it,” Faulkner said. “ITT as everybody knows did a lot of their marketing in the Northeast part of the country. I don’t know—I haven’t had any personal experience—but I’ve heard stories of when affordable housing projects were done by the government, it had some pretty devastating impacts on established neighborhoods, and a lot of the people that ended up coming to Flagler County and Palm Coast experienced some of that.” He was referring to the urban renewal trend of the 1950s and 60s when the well-intentioned plans to demolish slums turned into the destruction of thriving neighborhoods and the rise of apartment buildings (the ‘projects”) instead.
“Being human beings, there’s a certain amount of prejudice or even, better stated, fear, associated with those multi-family projects,” Faulkner continued. And yet, he said, “it’s a critical element for a vibrant community. You have to have diversity in housing.” Instead, the old resistance emerges again when local governments are contending with land-use issues that would facilitate apartment or multi-family developments. (Faulkner was in the middle of just such an issue a few weeks ago when Palm Coast went through approval steps for a zoning change on Old Kings Road near State Road 100 to enable apartments or other multi-family housing there.)
Jason DeLorenzo, familiar with these contentious issues as a former Palm Coast City Council member and as the government affairs director of the Flagler County Builders Association, underscored “another issue in the community which has to do with density,” he said—meaning how many housing or apartment units you may squeeze into any given acreage. “Palm Coast is often compared to Port Orange in a favorable way. But also Ormond Beach as well. Ormond Beach has a density for multi-family of 32 units per acre. With straight zoning in Palm Coast, you’re looking at 12 units per acre. That is a huge difference. When you’re trying to bring a multi-family project to market and you can only achieve it with 12 units per acre, one, it’s hard to bring the product affordably, and also it’s hard to bring a really good quality product because you don’t have any extra money to spend on the product itself. You’re building it very straight forward because your cost per unit is so high.”
In other words, the local zoning rules designed for affordable apartments end up having somewhat of an opposite effect by either limiting the number of apartments that are built, resulting in lower quality apartments that may be priced at a higher rate for the investors to make back what money they can, for lack of scaling that would have allowed them to build better and rent at more affordable prices.
Density should be addressed, DeLorenzo, and “we really do need to do a better job with public perception.”
When Faulkner spoke of higher densities being made possible by building higher—which means going above the 50-foot limit in most places in Palm Coast—he got some resistance from Ray Tyner, the city’s development director and one of the panelists. He recalled the time when the city passed its comprehensive plan, the blueprint for long-term development in the city, in 2004. “It was always keep the character of Palm Coast, not having high rises,” Tyner said. “That’s a balance, when you talk about a higher density, you’re talking about potentially taller buildings if you’re going to go to 35 units per acre. You’re talking a lot of height there. Looking at Palm Coast since 1977 and looking at the lay of the land, I really don’t know what areas. There could be some areas that could be appropriate, but if you look at the Matanzas Woods area and you’ve got some clusters of multi-family there, can you picture a 90-story building in the middle of Matanzas? I can’t.” Tyner likely meant 90 feet, not 90 stories (the tallest building in the state, the nearly 900-foot Panorama Tower in Miami, has 82 floors), and seemed to correct himself moments later: “Would the citizens who live in Matanzas like a 90-foot building? I can’t see it.”
Tyner said there may be some opportune ities to get some more density next time the comprehensive plan comes up, but “it’s where you put the density that matters—siting it appropriately within the community, so you keep that balance.”
That, of course, leads into the not-in-my-backyard strains that always animate planning and city board discussions of such developments. Adam Mengel, the county’s planning director and also one of the panelists, addressed that very point.
“Those of us who are natives, those of us who are first, second, third, fourth generation Floridians, have seen dramatic changes in our state, and the folks that have come here more often than not are the latest edition,” Mengel said. “We welcome them, we want them here, they drive our economic engine. But there’s also some perspective that’s involved. It’s always that idea of smart growth, that sometimes we laugh, we giggle about that, and is there any such thing as that. Hopefully efforts like this can get us to that common ground, help us to build that relationship we all rely on. It’s not always about the NIMBYs, the not in my backyard, the CAVEs, ‘the citizens against virtually everything,’ the CAVERs, ‘the citizens against virtually everything reasonable.’ This is my world that I see. I’m never immune from the land use actions, and then I get those folks that get there and they say, why are you doing this to me? In reality most of the time it’s because those entitlements have been in place years before, and we have those property rights there, and certainly we use developer and investor maybe too derisively. Remember that most of us are here because of a developer known as ITT. If ITT hadn’t come here we would still be referring to Flagler County as poorly trained piney flatwoods.”
The breakfast was attended by some 75 people and took place at the Hilton Garden Inn in Palm Coast.
Excuse me Faulkner but I believe “being human beings” is what gives us compassion and understanding, it’s what gives us the ability to have understanding and reasonable thoughts, it’s the “inhumane” sides of us that have fear from a family that makes less money, rethink your way of living Faulkner
The location is close to Bunnell and the R section to allow the flow of stuff into Palm Coast a little better.
Common Man says
No “Affordable housing”.
No “Diverse housing”.
Unfortunately those labels freak people out!
Competitive — as good as or better than others of a comparable nature.
How about just plain ole “Competitive housing”?
I am one citizen who likes Palm Coast the way it is and id not on favor of higher density housing.
This just plain gets my gizzard a movin!
I am very suspicious of the motives behind these attempts at social engineering to create utopia, what is wrong with allowing the free market along with sensible comprehensive planning and untampered zoning based on the will of the current residents to direct the balance of housing in our community? The zoning request sought on Old Kings Rd was not based on altruistism to improve the plight of service economy employees, get real, it was about one thing only, money in the pocket of the property owner who wanted a zone change to increase the value of the land because they could develop the land with a higher return on their investment.
The building trade associations advocate for affordable housing as a means to help their constituency, the builders, not the struggling family seeking low cost housing. The builders lobby for affordable housing requirements in order to secure greater density within their developments and use cluster building variances to cut their costs for infrastructure. Why would they want to have to develop a hundred acre parcel with roads, sewer lines and other infrastructure when they can trade off some of the acreage and gain concessions when they “allow” a 10% affordable mix to the development? As the story of the Trojan War warned, be careful of developers bearing gifts!
Concerned Citizen says
Growth anywhere is inevitable. This mindset that Palm Coast is immune from growth is rather silly. It’s how we capitalize on growing that’s important.
The first thing Palm Coast and Flagler County needs to do is a major upgrade to our utilities infra structure. With all the potential housing and commercial development it’s highly unlikely our sewage and water treatment facility is up to the task.
Also needed would be an increase in our public safety assets. More people and more structures mean more Law Enforcement as well as Fire Rescue. Would an addition of Competitive housing mean that Palm Coast would finally see it’s own Police Department? Or would the Sheriff charge the city even more to patrol that area.
There are also road and traffic conditions that need to be improved as well. With this building boom comes additional traffic. Parts of town are already a nightmare. I have grown to dread the stretch of 100 where Target and Racetrack is.
We also need to correct already mentioned safety issues in older parts of the community. The various sections that have been here awhile don’t need to be passed by in favor of new stuff.
I am curious about one thing. Do they have a plan for attracting large employers? It would be nice to have something besides Starbucks, Publix and McDonald’s hiring people in the area. Even affordable housing requires income to maintain it. Having a few large scale employers would definitely strengthen our local economy.
Take a drive through some of the duplex neighborhoods, and you’ll see that multi-family housing is a disaster.
Affordable housing, Diverse Housing? Call it whatever but the bottom line is, sadly, increased crime in the areas surrounding this type of housing. This is a factual statement backed by years of data. Ask any law enforcement officer and they will tell you this is true. So the question is, is it worth it in the long run? Do you want this area to change from a single family, retirement community or into a mini metro area with the problems and issues that face any midsize city or town? Most of us came here to retire and to get away from the problems of metro living. But it seems some of our local politicians have lost focus of what this area was intended to be and now have plans for to much growth and the increased tax revenue that will come with it. Why do people move here and then become hell bent on changing it? If this is not what you were looking for then go elsewhere. If your trying to build up your political resume for future elections to a higher office don’t use this area as your training ground Let Flagler County be what it was intended to be, a rural farming/ retirement community……the last slice of Florida paradise !
Percy's mother says
Back in 1999-2000 when Palm Coast became a city (what a mistake!), we were standing at a crossroads. I remember writing a letter to every new council member as well as the new mayor stating that Palm Coast could take one of two paths: (1) At that time, the ultimate vision for Palm Coast could have been “the Boca Raton of the NE part of Florida” . . . or . . . (2) Palm Coast could in the future become just any other of the many hick towns throughout Florida.
Had those in power chosen the #1 vision, “The Boca Raton of the NE part of Florida”, this place would have and could have been able to attract world class companies such as IBM (as did Boca Raton). This place would also have been able to attract the cream of the crop in education to work at world class companies such as IBM . . . meaning higher earning individuals whose taxes would enable the area to prosper just like Boca did in the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
However, those in control in Palm Coast at the time had absolutely NO vision and no ability to project a great vision for Palm Coast into the future.
So what we are left with now is this article and more people with some semblance of control (Toby Tobin, Melissa Holland, Memory Hopkins, Getchen Smith pushing “workforce/low income housing” (apartment complexes or PUD type developments) down our throats because there’s no decent industry here (whereas we could have attracted world class industry if the vision had been a Boca Raton of NE Florida). All we can get here is low paying service jobs and people who can’t even afford to buy a home for $220,000. I remember when the new car wash opened earlier this year and Melissa Holland was gushing about “more jobs”. Great. More low paying service jobs which can’t and don’t support a family.
Please put me on the record (and I’m sure no one cares). I DO NOT want “workforce” (AKA low income) housing in Palm Coast. No apartments and no low income housing of any kind.
AND, please you people with some semblance of control, don’t presume to think we’re stupid enough to not know what’s happening when you change labels . . . it’s no longer “low income” housing. Now it’s called “workforce housing”. We’re not stupid. A never-ending question for me is . . . why is it that the dumbest, least qualified and the least out of the box thinkers with NO vision inevitably get into power and control positions?
I am glad and support that none of Palm Coast city council or officials were present at this charade. The county did enough damage to Palmcoasters in the period that took over of us as unincorporated County jurisdiction after ITT left us. They changed zoning as they pleased and sold and exchanged our amenities also as they pleased their best interest as well affecting the future residents of unincorporated Palm Coast forever. Example is the changing of the zoning of the parcel in Old Kings Road to allow affordable condominium units next to Hidden Lakes and Toscana now!. Meetings like the one mentioned in this editorial are just to benefit the attending developers their minions in all the private agencies around like FCCOC and FPCBA and the county government looking forward to benefit their buddies and themselves on the backs of Palmcoasters for the hundred time since ITT (ICDC) left us. Blondee’s realistically says…look at the multifamily housing off of Coral Reef Ct and north east Palm Coast Parkway and Florida Park Drive just before Island Walk is a display of slum landlords (some reside in slum looking housing in FB themselves) that promote a nest of transients, prostitution, druggies and traffickers residing on them leaving off panhandling, drug deals or wealthy local sugar daddy’s that bail them out all the time…the public records shows it all. Just ask the sheriff about the raids in these multifamily housings. I sure know as we work close with our law enforcement in our neighborhood watch communities bordering those low income housings renting without a proper background check to felons. So please do not advocate for that type of housing too close to us …”yes not in our backyards” because as is, we have enough with the existing now!
By the way before they approve any more new housing in Palm Coast they need to upgrade improve and have a second sewer plant in place so every time it rains we do not have to endure the parade of Brownies Tank trucks marching to alleviate the sewage lift stations so the waste does not back up in our “current residents ” homes. As we can’t stop these developers from using their land, lest demand what we can by asking for larger impact fees to build the infrastructure they need to serve their new housings other than increasing our utilities rate to fund them, the wealthy!
Mikey Eyes says
I have been coming down to Palm Coast for around 20 years. I have lived and worked in Bronx NY since 1948. And consider myself a very street smart guy. The City of Palm Coast better be very careful with their good intentions. You have no idea how bad this can be for your beautiful city. The people on these commissions should go take a walk in some of the Palm Coast sections!! Not a good look for your town! Very slummy! Code enforcement should be cracking down on the owners! Mr.Faulkner spoke about the affordable housing projects in the Northeast. Today I drove by several in the South Bronx. A couple of them are so bad NYPD has mobile command centers permanently assigned to them. My advice DON’T bring big city problems to Palm Coast. Because affordable housing is not going to be affordable. WHEN TAX PAYERS LEAVE!
Until the sewer system is upgraded to handle the existing residents, no new building permits should be allowed. Every time it rains hard, half of the roads flood with a mix of sewage and runoff. If you drive around town with your windows down, half the neighborhoods smell like open sewers. I don’t know why anyone would want to live here.
It’s the PROJECTS!!!! Using proper terms is really everything SMDH
@Percey’s Mother: I AGREE! Thumbs up
To Percy’s mother, you’re in luck, Boca is right down the road. Realize your dream and move…IF you can afford the housing there.
Kevin, I agree with you. Builders rule and always have because of money. What everybody else does is complain, and there is plenty of it here. This community has a reputation for difficulty, which may be why large companies are not eager to come here.
Most of us live here because we like it just the way it is and it provides a good life without all the hassles. Be careful what you wish for and be glad you live in an area surrounded by just about anything you want, including more affordable housing.
How do you expect people with low income jobs do buy houses with skyrocketing property values? You do realize that it’s extraordinarily difficult to buy a house making minimum wage. What does a single adult working at Walmart do if they don’t have access to affordable housing? Live out of town and commute to the area for $8 an hour? Get real.
This utopia you speak of is actually a vision of what YOU want Palm Coast/Flagler to be, “No low income housing, no poor people, no crime at all, just retired folks playing golf and walking on the beach all day.” Unfortunately, this is the real world and as long as there are business that pay minimum wage like Walmart/Target/Fast Food chains, there is literally no choice but to provide a type of housing that they can afford. Would you prefer Walmart, Publix, Target be filled with workers who are all homeless?
Wow! You have already made this a low income area with your inability to plan for high income jobs. We have more domestic abuse, drugs, suicides then we once had. These are the crimes of the lower income bracket. Hey, I have an idea! Let’s add low income housing to the mix and raise the crime rate some more. How about better jobs! Families in this County can no longer survive on meager wages. Some of you need to take a look at the homeless camps around the area. It’s a real eye opener. Then maybe you will do what needs to be done. This is no longer a retirement community. It hasn’t been for some time. If you don’t like it move to the Villages.
Anonymous, I couldn’t agree more. This whole deal revolves around profit! It matters not that city services are already strained, build more. So, to help these developers and their buddies realize their profit, the existing taxpayers will subsidize this with higher tax’s to upgrade city service’s.
Affordability is yelled from the roof tops as the reason, people cannot afford to buy what exists. The root cause is there are no decent paying jobs to enable folks to purchase a home. Why is that? Could it be that our education system has failed to educate the work force? Teachers, no matter how good they are can only teach within certain narrow guidelines. Also they can’t teach if the student doesn’t show up. No, it’s not the teachers, it is the parents that are failing to parent their children and get them into the classroom that is the problem. It is the parents who elect people to decide how their children will be taught. No high tech company with good paying jobs will locate here if we do not have a educated work force to staff them.
So the plan is to stuff as much housing on the smallest foot print as possible and build it as high as possible to realize the largest profit possible. How about the county force the developers to be the onsite landlords and let them deal with the inevitable fallout.
As a aside I’m curious what the rental of these affordable units are projected to be. A house can be rented for around 1K @ a month and there are vacancies.
Will Camp says
Why don’t they just build it in Bunnell. Why does it always have to be built in Palm Coast? Bring in better paying jobs, not low income housing. You want lower crime, make sure there are enough jobs so that all are not left wanting. Pay a decent wage. Sadly this town has become a very shady place. Not like it was in the 1980’s and part of the 90’s.
To Paul…I been told by a developer friend that once a developer buys land they can even request zopning change to accommodate whatever they more profitable for them they can build on it….Now there is one thing that lawfully our reps in the local governments can do and they should do is put it to vote of our elected ones to raise the impact fees to build, improve , enlarge the infrastructure the develper needs to be in place to service whatever they plan to build….and unfortunately is not being done around us in this county until now. Simply because the local government believes that raise the impact fees discourages growth and the creation of jobs.
That has no common sense and that is why now for the past two years with all the new condos, housing, businesses approved and built without proper sewer utility impact fees, we have to endure with every heavy rain the contamination with e-coli from flooded sewers in our saltwater canals, swells and sidewalks and curves plus the rate increase in our utility bills to accommodate these developers pockets…totally unfair!
Low cost housing = low class people =more crime no jobs = way more crime palm coast is destined to be a crime ridden city it’s been on its way for the last few years. Big change since I move down from crime ridden Philadelphia crime is about the same here now.
Low cost housing will bring more jobs to Flagler county like doubling the police force.
Wishful Thinking says
“Mothersworry” ‘s post says it all…
A true public servant knows that their job it to take (good) care of their own family , making sure that all services are top notch from A to Z before opening their arms , but paying out of our wallets as well as making us share our not-so-adequate services with their ‘invitees’ who have no decent employment opportunities . Hence – let’s make our area so ‘open’ that you can even pay your rent even if you can’t find a job….
But hey, fattening the tummy’s of those who put greed before responsibility is where it’s at and the Gov offers bookoo ‘tax credits’ to builders to provide housing to the less fortunate. It’s all about greed and don’t be fooled for a second.
Someone’s worth does not dictate their class
Mikey Eyes says
This is the link to the Housing Authority of the County of Flagler. Take a look if you are interested!
As a DV Case Manager Domestic Violence does not discriminate and effects all social classes. They just hide it to say face. The same with suicide and drug use.
long time palm coast says
Anyone that voted for Palm Coast to become a city, this is what “We will be eligible for federal grants meant” nothing comes without strings attached”
It can be argued that the lack of affordable housing, in addition to causing homelessness, causes more crime. A lot of violence and drug abuse is caused by financial difficulty in people’s lives. People turn on each other when they can’t afford the bills. What can alleviate some of the affordable housing shortage without even getting into the zoning debate is pricing regulations on rentals. Landlords have been having a bonanza for too long and the wages people are earning do not warrant the rental prices. It is more expensive to rent than finance a house. People often rent in spite of this because they do not have a choice, because they do not have the credit to secure a mortgage loan. The rents are so high that they can’t save to get out from under, so the cycle of poverty goes. We need an economy that works for everybody, with the goal of homeownership for all.
Not only that, I think these people want homeless people to walk to work for $8 an hour, since there is a similar resistance to Flagler getting a normal bus service.
Mickey blue says
We do have large employers the hospital , palm coast data the school system all the home builders. Affordable housing often changes a city in a negative way propertie values drop crime moves in this all happens slow ultimately killing the city i have seen this happen many times in michigan for many mistakes made by the mayors and citys councils .keeping a cities code enforcement strict and property values high ,limited rental property keeps a city safe clean and lower crime. And in no way am i implying renters are criminals but when you have low rents then criminals can afordd them too. i ask why did we all move here and not daytona or st augustine it was not just the lower priced homes ,especially if you bought here after 2002 the homes in ormond and port orange are on average slightly more then here so why do we have more people choose palm coast it the atmosphere of this city
Flagler County Citizen says
This is an old article but it deserves attention. We just need more housing options, period. For teachers, administrative assistants, factory workers, janitors, customer service managers, call center workers, social workers, library aids, grandmothers and grandfathers, people with disabilities, crossing guards, college students working part-time, college students working full-time, people who have stable retirement income; people with trust funds; people who earn $100K a year, people who earn $25K a year; people who are starting their own businesses, people who manage retail stores, people who work, shop, and entertain themselves here.
Call it “affordable housing,” and folks get their knickers in a tangle. What does “affordable” mean? It just means we are play Sims City correctly!! It means there’s housing here for our population! The median household income in Flagler County is about $49K. “Affordable housing” is housing affordable primarily to households with that income. Period.
Maybe we should cater to the panicked citizens here and stop calling it “affordable housing,” and just call it what it is, “housing to accommodate our economic growth.”