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Letter: Commissioners are racing to implement “inclusionary zoning” before their terms expire

The satirist JP Sears has a simple formula for “How to Be a Woke White Person”: call other whites racist, no matter what they do or say. That’s the rhetoric behind the proposed unzoning of Gainesville–that selfish, affluent, white “nimbys” (not-in-my-backyard-ers) don’t want Black neighbors. Along with trees and regulations as obstacles, City documents since 2018 say nimbys also are a major barrier to affordable housing in Gainesville.

But something’s fishy about that. In summer 2017, the Mayor declared, “East Gainesville is not lacking for affordable housing, there is an over-abundance of affordable housing in Gainesville. The problem is it’s all concentrated.” News to many of us that anywhere has too much affordable housing.

The mystery statement was a prelude to Lauren Poe’s preaching and moralizing about supposed-albeit-illegal Jim Crow segregation in “exclusionary zoning,” contrasted with “inclusionary zoning.” It’s a rehash of a 30-year-old theory from the Clinton administration to move a few people to more affluent neighborhoods. Only this version is for the City to pay developers to rent a few new apartments to people making something less than median income for some period. The city commission already committed a million dollars to a downtown condo developer for unspecified terms. Poe and others contend, too, that building more market-rate apartments will lower housing costs, but the opposite is happening despite many hundreds of new units in a boom of unimaginative concrete.

Zoning is not and was not the problem, and unzoning or upzoning is not a solution. Financing is an impediment, worsened by inflation and interest rates about to go up, and the biggest challenges builders and renovators say they face are labor and material costs and shortages. Besides, the commission approved three-story triplexes citywide, and the city has more than enough apartment zoning for decades to come. Upzoning — to higher densities, intensities, and heights — makes properties more expensive, not more affordable. It’s a windfall to the property owners but no one else.

Gainesville has very low homeownership, and with recent events, evictions, foreclosures, inflation, insurance rejections, bidding wars, corporate buyers, and record home prices, people are stuck in the rent trap that sucks wealth out of the city for investors’ passive income. The city commission has for years ignored housing specialists’ advice to make preservation of existing housing the most urgent priority and to protect the city from Opportunity Zone tax break projects to come. It has yet to follow up on a housing summit nearly four years ago.

Instead, the dogged insistence on upzoning could finally succeed with a commission majority before their terms expire this year. They bought into the “inclusionary” rhetoric and paid nearly a half-million dollars to a New York consultant to embed it in City code. Commissioners said things like, “People are terrified of losing their lifestyle” and “People fear change.” Poe said the public needs educating to see the error of racist, fearful ways, while commissioners ignore respected Black residents’ objections to these measures as well. Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker has researched and advocated for genuinely equitable development, not empty slogans.

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After the article about the overabundance of affordable housing, another one shows Poe with a hardhat and shovel at a groundbreaking for a UF-affiliated luxury student apartment complex. Elsewhere he says the City and UF would create housing for UF faculty and staff between campus and downtown — in historically Black neighborhoods where speculation, profiteering, gentrification, and studentification have driven housing costs out of reach for people of modest means.

The City and Gainesville Housing Authority, through its front organization, demolished hundreds of low-income units that now are being replaced by pricey student apartments on the Seminary Lane site–where they promised such apartments would never be built–and by $440,000 single-family HOA homes on the former Kennedy Homes site (now known as Heartwood) at a cost of millions of City dollars and more ahead in subsidies. On Thursday, four commissioners voted to proceed with a Memorandum of Understanding to declare GHA an official housing partner of the City of Gainesville. Commissioner Reina Saco was absent, and Commissioner Duncan-Walker voted no. Soon the commission will also vote on further subsidies and deregulation of development. In the name of affordable housing — and antiracism.

Tana Silva,
Gainesville

The opinions expressed by letter or opinion writers are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of AlachuaChronicle.com.

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