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Broward plan: Free land for builders

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http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/...ty/10066674.htm

Broward plan: Free land for builders

BY SAMUEL P. NITZE

snitze@herald.com

Owner of vacant lots seeks developers of affordable, single-family homes. Speedy permitting. Government assistance. Clean titles. FREE LAND!

The owner is Broward County, which has snapped up about 100 parcels in Roosevelt Gardens, Washington Park and other unincorporated neighborhoods near the county's center. The pitch is part of a program designed to spur investment in a long-neglected area and provide housing for low- and middle-income earners.

Plans allow for a mix of market-rate and affordable housing, but the county will offer incentives, including free lots, to builders of lower-cost homes, officials said. Many of the lots were acquired after owners failed to pay taxes. After approving a list of qualified developers, the county will put the lots out to bid in bundles of up to 20 starting early next year, said Greg Stuart, assistant director of the county's Office of Urban Planning and Redevelopment.

''It's a start. You have to start somewhere,'' Stuart said. ``By doing this in bulk -- 20, 40, 60 lots at a time -- you are getting production going where you can actually start to meet the needs of the workforce.''

The initiative comes as community leaders across the region struggle to increase the supply of homes affordable to nurses, librarians, teachers and other working people.

To the struggling, unincorporated neighborhoods west of Interstate 95 on both sides of Sunrise Boulevard, new homes could represent new life, said County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion, who represents the area.

The neighborhoods have shown signs of progress. The county is installing new sidewalks and drains.

A park and community center are in the works. Residents are taking better care of their homes and working with the Broward Sheriff's Office to crack down on crime, Eggelletion said.

''They are fighting for their community,'' he said, ``and it's really important that we keep this momentum going.''

Eligha Lewis III, vice president of the Roosevelt Gardens homeowners association, said trading vacant lots for families could ensure a lasting comeback.

''You can see the changes,'' he said, gesturing to bright white sidewalks, piles of dirt heaped on empty lots, and machinery rumbling nearby. ``But we have to have new homes and new homeowners.''

The county's program takes aim at three commonly cited obstacles to development of affordable housing: the high cost of land (lots will be free), the burdens of regulation (fees will be waived, permitting expedited), and a hot housing market (some home prices will be capped), said County Administrator Roger Desjarlais.

County commissioners recently pushed the top price for a home defined as affordable to $229,000.

The new homes will range in price from well below that to whatever the market will bear, Stuart said, adding that the first homes could be finished as early as next fall.

Similar government-backed efforts to acquire land and put it out to bid to private developers are under way in Fort Lauderdale's northwest neighborhoods, in Dania Beach, and elsewhere.

County officials have said they hope to work more closely with towns and cities on ''land banking'' programs for affordable housing.

A single lot may not draw much interest, particularly in a depressed area. But when a government agency offers several parcels at once, at low or no cost, the developer's chances of making a profit on affordable homes improve.

''It is another tool available to help with the workforce housing problem,'' Desjarlais said. ``It will make a difference.''

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It's a really innovative and smart way to do it as well. These "lien fields" plague a lot of inner city neighborhoods. The taxes due outweigh any profit a developer might get off it. So they sit empty. They city takes the loss on the taxes due, but hopefully gets a revitalized neighborhood. If only every city could be so forward looking.

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