A Fix for Florida’s Affordability Crisis


In 2017, the Miami Herald chronicled the painstaking commutes of service and hospitality workers who travel hours each day to get to work. One source for the story, Odelie Paret, detailed her daily journey to Miami Beach’s Fontainebleau Hotel, and the factors that forced her to live so far from her workplace: 

“The 13.5-mile journey between her modest two-bedroom apartment and Miami Beach exemplifies the ugly reality for most in today’s local tourism workforce. Every morning, thousands of hospitality workers like Paret commute for hours to get to the Beach, where a bitter cocktail of exorbitant rents and stagnant wages have pushed workers farther and farther away from the workplace.” 

Since then, Florida’s affordability crisis has intensified – the result of inadequate housing solutions and, in some cases, inaction on the part of the public and private sectors.  

According to a new study by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, Florida ranks among the country’s three least affordable states for housing. And an analysis of metropolitan areas with at least one million people found that Miami and Orlando are among the three markets with the highest concentration of cost-burdened residents.

Enter the Florida legislature. In 2023, amidst a deeply polarized legislative session, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle came together to pass the Live Local Act, a bipartisan bill designed to fast-track the development of affordable and attainable housing in communities across Florida.

The bill incentivizes housing development in three ways: 

  • Developers are eligible to receive a property tax exemption of up to 100%, provided that their project contains at least 71 units serving households with incomes that are equal to or less than 120% of the Area Median Income. 
  • Municipalities must now allow multifamily development on sites zoned for commercial or industrial use if at least 40% of the residential units within the project will be affordable to those earning up to 120% of the Area Median Income for a period of at least 30 years. 
  • Local governments must administratively approve multifamily residential projects in any area zoned commercial or industrial, allowing developers to build to the maximum density within the municipality, and to the tallest building height within one mile of the site. 

With these legislative changes, the hope is that real estate owners and developers will be motivated to incorporate affordable housing options within their projects, in turn allowing members of Florida’s workforce to live near their place of employment. 

“The Live Local Act is the most significant land use policy change to take effect in Florida since the introduction of Comprehensive Zoning,” says Bilzin Sumberg Partner Anthony De Yurre, who represents real estate developers and investors in complex land use and zoning matters. 

With these legislative changes, the hope is that real estate owners and developers will be motivated to incorporate affordable housing options within their projects, in turn allowing members of Florida’s workforce to live near their place of employment. 

Developers are embracing the Live Local Act six months after the law took effect, with several high-profile projects coming to the forefront. 

  • In Bal Harbour, Whitman Family Development has proposed redeveloping Bal Harbour Shops – one of the world’s most exclusive retail destinations – to include workforce housing units, market rate residences, and a boutique hotel in the Village’s commercial district. The development would enable teachers, nurses, first responders, and service and hospitality workers to live closer to where they work and access everyday services. 
  • Five miles northwest, in Miami Gardens, Cymbal DLT is tapping into the Live Local Act a bit differently. The firm’s newest market rate apartment complex, Laguna Gardens, was nearing completion when the law was enacted in 2023, prompting Cymbal DLT to evaluate whether it could modify its pricing to unlock the property tax exemption. The result: all 341 of the development’s units will be workforce housing, as the Wall Street Journal reported
  • And in Tampa, home to one of the fastest-growing multifamily markets in the nation, MMI Development is planning to build 600-plus residential units on land zoned for commercial and industrial use. While such a zoning change might have required years of public meetings and political wrangling under normal circumstances, the Live Local Act allows such a conversation to take place administratively (read: faster and with far less friction). 

Of course, this is Florida and it’s 2024, so everything is subject to debate. For all the benefits presented by the Live Local Act, some municipalities have raised concerns about state legislation preempting their ability to review and approve new real estate projects. 

The irony is that many of these cities and towns went years (even decades!) without addressing the need for affordable and attainable housing while the local workforce suffered the consequences. 

In some smaller municipalities, such as the Village of Bal Harbour, the zoning code doesn’t even contemplate such development. Exclusionary housing policies have been normalized to the point where the mere thought of diversifying the local housing market with affordable places to live is blasphemous. 

Only now – after the state has created a vehicle for ushering in affordable housing and as developers seize upon the opportunity – are these enclaves paying attention to a crisis that has impacted too many Floridians for far too long.