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DeSantis Signs Live Local Amendments, Boosting Tax Breaks For Developers

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law changes to the Live Local Act that are meant to clarify its rules while providing a boost for developers looking to build affordable and workforce housing. 

Cymbal DLT began construction of Laguna Gardens before the Live Local Act was passed, but recent amendments to the law will allow the developer to still receive tax breaks for its affordable units there.

The amendments were one of 11 bills DeSantis signed into law Thursday. Among the changes, which are seen as largely favorable to developers, are increased tax breaks for affordable units, reduced parking requirements at some properties and further limits on how local governments can regulate proposals. 

“Many developers were waiting for these revisions and clarifications to tweak their projects or update their proformas,” Bilzin Sumberg partner Anthony De Yurre, who helped draft the initial legislation, said in a statement. “The final bill enhances the probability of Live Local Act projects getting approved, financed, and built.”

DeSantis’ signature on SB 238 followed months of legislative jockeying between municipalities and developers. A first round of proposed amendments included a host of reforms sought by local governments as they pushed to retake some control over their zoning processes. But those were removed from the second draft of amendments that ultimately passed, Keith Poliakoff, a land use attorney at Fort Lauderdale-based Government Law Group, previously told Bisnow

The Live Local Act became the law of the land last year with broad bipartisan support. Its aim is to spur affordable and workforce housing development through a mix of tax incentives, zoning changes, density bonuses and requirements that local governments approve projects under the law’s scope without a public hearing. 

The law, which opened up land zoned as commercial or industrial for residential development, applies to proposed developments that have at least 71 affordable or workforce housing units, or larger projects that restrict rents in at least 40% of all units. To qualify, the units must be kept affordable for those making no more than 120% of the area median income.

Affordable units priced for those making 80% or more of AMI can receive a 75% tax abatement, while those priced below that threshold are exempt from property taxes. The original law applied the tax breaks only to the units themselves, while the amended law expanded the tax cuts to include a proportional amount of the property’s common areas and land. 

The amendments also opened the door for developers who had already built or had substantially renovated a project in the last five years to apply for the tax breaks if the developments fit the law’s income restrictions. 

Many of the amendments were meant to hammer out perceived ambiguities in the law, but Poliakoff said he expects municipalities will continue to push back against the rule that requires administrative approval of projects without a public hearing if they fit within the law’s parameters.

Cities like Miami Beach, Bal Harbour, Doral and Weston have passed legislation that could rub up against Live Local requirements or pushed back against projects that fit within its purview. 

Miami Beach used the lack of direction in the original law regarding floor area ratios, a measure of a project’s density, to attempt to block a plan from Jesta Group to redevelop the Clevelander South Beach hotel and bar. The latest amendments explicitly prohibit municipalities from reducing floor area ratio below 150% of the jurisdiction’s maximum density.  

The changes to the law are far-reaching and go beyond clarifications of existing language. They include:

  • A mandatory 20% parking requirement reduction for projects built within a half-mile of a train, bus or light rail station.
  • The removal of all parking requirements for projects built in transit-oriented development zones.
  • Changes to how maximum allowable height is calculated that keep it tied to a 1-mile radius, but take into account the size and zoning of adjacent buildings.
  • Explicit allowance that market-rate condos can be included in projects under the law’s jurisdiction.
  • The exclusion from the law of any parcels that are directly under an airport runway or in a federally determined airport noise zone.
  • A reduction to the minimum unit count for proposed buildings in “areas of critical state concern,” which includes the Florida Keys and other environmentally sensitive regions. 

Developers have heralded the law since its first passage as a game-changer in making affordable and workforce housing construction more financially feasible, but housing advocates have criticized its relatively high income ceilings. In Miami, a studio apartment renting for around $2,200 per month would qualify as affordable. 

The push to encourage affordable and workforce housing development comes as South Florida grapples with an affordability crisis after pandemic-era migration trends pushed up rental demand and home prices.

Miami Homes For All, a housing advocacy group, found in a recent report that Miami-Dade County is short 90,181 homes for residents earning $75K per year or less. The current pipeline of 13,691 affordable housing units will need $1.5B in subsidies to actually get built, the group found.

“We have a fantastic opportunity, right now, to quickly close a gap in our affordable housing supply, but we need more public financing to get there,” Annie Lord, executive director of Miami Homes for All, said in a statement when the report was published in March.