"Affordable Housing" : At What Cost, And To Whom?

Our community will be known not just by it’s waterfront homes and ocean-front condominiums, but by the houses we are about to build, which the vogue is to call “affordable housing”. It isn’t our right, as those who got here first and already have our waterfront, to insist that others cannot live here unless they have comparable homes; nor is it our right to create regulations for the construction of new homes that require prices above their ability to pay. It isn’t for us even to define what “affordable” really means. The market will do that more certainly than any of us could.

But at the same time we can’t tell people how to live, or what to build, we know that police and fire services, roads, water and sewer, educational facilities, and other services are costs shared by all of us. Those costs are greater, and those services less efficient and less successful, where home building disregards the need for those services. We know from experience that profit drives business and building, and that immediate profit may conflict, or even be in direct contradiction, with long term and short term public costs. We, therefore have a need for balance between our community need to provide affordable housing, whatever that is, and our shared expense to support that housing with community services, including the roads on which we all drive.

There have already been voices that urge changes to density requirements and relaxation of concurrency, all in the name of urgency. Affordable housing is urgent, but all that urgency should not be met at public expense to correct. In Okaloosa County our experience is that once things are built badly and without planning, correction becomes at least more expensive, maybe impossible. For instance, we know now the need for a bypass from the Mid-Bay Bridge to Highway 85 around Niceville. That need was also obvious 15 years ago, before subdivisions were built in places that prevent that. The same choices are being made, by default, everyday around Crestview, both inside the City, and out.

I am personally a real estate owner, investor, attorney, and a resident of this County. Like most of you, I therefore have interests on every side of the issue. That gives me a right to urge that the County and Cities work together in coordinating their plans, quickly, while at the same time enforcing intelligent building codes and restrictions. If today’s public officials can’t balance the demands for urgency with their public duty to control building, they will loose the opportunity.

We have proven by building over the easy bypass locations around Niceville that there is no second chance to do this right. The urgent answer may be the very most expensive for all of us.

Okaloosa County has a new Growth Management Director. His office has the most important task we’ve given to one person, at the most critical time in this county’s history. We should help him do what his job requires, but we should not urge, or expect, that he make his contribution by making regulations go away.