Affordable housing at the expense of the agricultural reserve, and a plan to rehost the homeless in Virginia Key

On July 28, the Palm Beach County Commission voted 5-1 to approve plans for an affordable housing complex in the agricultural preserve. The project includes 357 apartments at market price and 119 housing units for the workforce – which will be income-restricted.

According to Palm Beach County websiteThe agricultural reserve was created to “preserve unique agricultural land and wetlands in order to enhance agricultural activity, environmental and water resources, and open spaces, by limiting uses to agriculture, conservation, low-density residential development, and non-residential uses serving the needs of farm workers and residents of Ag Reserve Tier”.

Palm Beach County Deputy Mayor Greg Weiss said there is a need for affordable housing in Palm Beach County. He said reports show that the governorate lacks about 100,000 affordable housing units.

“As the council looks at the area, there are 20,000 acres in the Ag Reserve,” Deputy Mayor Weiss said. “It is the only part of our community that does not have a workforce housing requirement and also lacks any development of multiple family units.”

Heidi Mahaffy is an attorney at the Sierra Club and 1000’s of Florida Friends. She said their concern about the approved plan is that it seeks to build a housing density comparable to suburban and urban areas on a site designated for low-density development.

“This particular plot of property is just under 40 acres, and approval of 8 units per acre when under the current land development regulation, they will only be allowed to develop 7 homes on this property,” she said.

The affordable housing crisis has affected the entirety of South Florida, so more housing development is needed. However, liking the proposal raises pressing questions facing South Florida as a region – especially with the cost of housing – how far west should we build? The region was losing farmland to development, and environmentalists were sounding the alarm about what that meant for the future.

Weiss said they have carefully analyzed the area to set aside 60% of the reserve for conservation purposes, giving the county 40% of the land for its use. He explained that part of the original plans for the reserve included 14,000 housing units, and only 6,00 were built today.

He hopes to see some of that land used for more housing.

“Ag Reserve’s goals are being met, but we’re making changes…and I think the board of directors has been very careful and mindful of how those changes are being made,” he said.

The city of Miami plans to resettle the homeless in Virginia Key.

The Miami City Commission voted 3-2 last Thursday to advance a pilot project that could move homeless residents to a camp in the northern tip of Virginia Key.

The proposed plan aims to help people with chronic homelessness, William Borough, MD, director of the City of Miami Department of Human Services.

Ali Bianco, an intern and reporter at WLRN, said that a vote was not originally supposed to take place at the meeting, just a discussion item.

“But at the end of the discussion, the commissioners essentially had a vote on whether or not to pilot the program in the northern tip of Virginia,” she said.

This location is next to a sewage treatment plant and some cycling trails. The vote originally failed but was reversed a few hours later. For now, the commission will also consider other locations proposed by the city manager besides Virginia Key. Bianco said they may also be looking at locations outside of Miami.

There are currently no residents living in Virginia Key – but it he is Historic black beach home and recreational activities for cyclists. The plan was met with almost universal opposition.

David Perry, founder of the Miami Alliance to Promote Racial Equality and chair of the Consumer Advisory Board at Camillus Health Concern, said this whole idea is misleading and will add more trauma and damage to the uninhabited population.

“We are not going to solve the problem of homelessness in Miami or anywhere else for that matter by turning away the homeless or removing them from the places where they live,” he said. “This would just be an amazing waste of time… it could go towards solving the homelessness problem in Miami.”

Other citizens are of the same opinion as Perry. Callers in the South Florida report said that moving vulnerable residents to an area prone to environmental damage is not beneficial. They also said it would be difficult to help reintroduce them into society if they had been turned away so far.

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