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Proposed $200 million affordable housing bond in Palm Beach County faces obstacles

Inflation-weary voters, competing bond issue raises concerns
Posted at 6:34 PM, Mar 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-29 18:52:55-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Housing Leadership Council of Palm Beach County wants commissioners to support its bond issue to create 20,000 affordable housing units.

"It’s an economic development issue," said Jack Weir, the council's president.

The group's members call the shortage of workforce housing a crisis. 

"That's the No. 1 reason companies say they are not coming here right now," said Suzanne Cabrera, the council's executive director. "Employers can't find housing for their middle management, and definitely not for the lower people on the scale."  

Suzanne Cabrera, executive director of Housing Leadership Council of Palm Beach County
Suzanne Cabrera speaks about the urgent need for affordable housing in Palm Beach County during a commission meeting held on March 29, 2022.

The environmental group Sustainable Palm Beach County said deteriorating waterways and the need for fresh clean water is also a crisis.  

"We lost a thousand manatees last year," said the group's president Karen Marcus. "We can't fix feeding the manatees until we clean up the water."  

Environmentalists want commissioners to allow voters to act on a proposed $150 million bond to clean up waterways and create more drinking water reservoirs. 

If the two bond proposals are added together, Palm Beach County voters could be on the hook for $350 million for a combination of cleaner water and more affordable housing.  

County Commissioner Maria Sachs
County Commissioner Maria Sachs shares her thoughts on the proposed bond for affordable housing.

"I think strategically, it would have been better to separate these two issues," said County Commissioner Maria Sachs. "Everybody's suffering from inflation. We're really not too sure where the economy’s going to go." 

On the housing bond, Commissioner Mack Bernard said the group should consider bypassing voters and approve at least some of the bond money now since the affordable housing crisis is already here and before interest rates rise.  

"First of all, it is a lot of money," said Commissioner David Kerner.

He noted that expensive commitments, even for a cause like affordable housing, should not be decided by fellow commissioners.

Dave Kerner, Palm Beach County commissioner
Palm Beach County Commissioner Dave Kerner discusses why voters should have the last word on approving the bond.

"It's the voters' decision to make. What do they want to spend their money on and how?" Kerner said.

Commissioners took no action but may consider telling environmentalists and housing advocates they may have to settle for less than the $350 million the two groups are asking for.  

Commissioners have little more than a month to approve the ballot language if they want to have these measures on the August primary election ballot. 

Otherwise, voters won't get a say until election day in November.