Florida is now the nation’s fastest-growing state, according to Census data, with a 1.9 percent demographic expansion between 2021 and 2022. The expanding population is putting increased pressure on its affordable and workforce housing sector, particularly when it comes to developments that cater to low-income seniors. To incentivize developers to build more affordable housing projects, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently signed Senate Bill 102, known as the Live Local Act, a legislation that aims to pump $711 million into housing programs and provide developers with major tax breaks.
“The Live Local Act is one step forward to offering developers an incentive to shift to affordable housing, a sector that will be more demand resilient as economic conditions shift and interest rates remain higher,” said David Druey, Centennial Bank‘s Florida regional president. The company intends to deploy more than $300 million to finance affordable housing development across Southeast Florida this year alone.
Integra Investments, through its affordable housing division, Interurban, is also very active in the area, having recently completed two large senior housing projects in the Miami area, in collaboration with Elderly Housing Development & Operations Corp. In the interview below, Jake Morrow, principal of Interurban, and Druey talk about the opportunities brought on by the recently signed bill and also touch on their most important affordable senior housing projects in South Florida.
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Why is South Florida’s affordable senior housing sector currently critical in inventory?
Morrow: South Florida residents face the nation’s largest disparity between rents and incomes. This disparity is magnified for low-income elderly households, who frequently have only social security income to rely on. The availability of these households has been well below the need for many years, as vacancy rates of low-income elderly development are routinely at or near 0 percent across South Florida.
This critical lack of inventory has been compounded recently by significantly escalating construction costs, interest rates and land costs, making the delivery of new inventory very challenging.
Druey: Florida has long been an attractive retirement destination for its taxes, good weather and strong health-care system, but the migration influx after the pandemic heightened the population numbers. Additionally, the aging population is living longer, and Baby Boomers are retiring, thus, widening the senior population pool.
There is a tremendous growing demand for affordable senior housing. The drawback is that developers are not incentivized around this specific demographic, so we may see some shy away from age restrictions. It is a high-maintenance venture that could better serve the general population in need and critical mass.
How do you expect the $711 million affordable housing bill to impact the state’s housing crisis?
Morrow: Florida Senate Bill 102 is among the most impactful legislation to stimulate the new construction of affordable housing that’s taken effect in Florida. The bill increases funding availability and provides important incentives to make affordable housing more feasible. However, Senate Bill 102 alone is not a silver bullet. Without increased engagement from local governments and increased local and federal affordable housing subsidies, communities will continue to experience an affordable housing supply that is far below the increasing need.
What else needs to change to stimulate more developers to make a positive, realistic impact in the senior affordable housing sector in South Florida in the years to come?
Morrow: The focus on stimulating the housing supply has certainly increased among officials in recent years, resulting in important legislation such as Florida Senate Bill 102. Continued focus is essential at all levels of government. For policies and programs to have a realistic, sustainable impact centered on drastically increasing the availability of low-income housing, it will be essential that policymakers at various levels of government work in conjunction with the development community and each other to craft policies to unlock the financial feasibility of new housing. Opportunities to leverage various public financing sources and unlock feasibility are lost when housing policy is not undertaken collaboratively.
Druey: The easiest change local and central governments can make is revising the density requirements in land use by allowing the build of more units to promote better development affordability. The municipality covering the payment impact fees would incentivize developers by removing one large cost component from project fees when undertaking an affordable housing development.
Please tell us more about the affordable senior housing projects you’ve been involved in. What is the impact of those particular projects in their respective communities?
Morrow: One of our first completed affordable developments is Mosaico, an elderly affordable housing development that we completed in June 2022. Mosaico is a new construction, 271-unit elderly development built primarily to provide critically needed, long-term affordable replacement housing for low-income elderly residents relocating from 1809 Brickell Ave., a physically obsolete, 56-year-old property that Integra previously acquired in partnership with a nonprofit partner, EHDOC., and had an impending expiring HUD program and was scheduled to be taken out of service.
Mosaico provides an example of multiple public and private stakeholders coming together to deliver a critically needed solution to prevent the loss of subsidized elderly housing units in the City of Miami amid Miami-Dade’s affordable housing crisis.
In addition to Mosaico, we recently delivered Steve Protulis Towers, a new 119-unit elderly affordable housing development in partnership with EHDOC. Protulis Towers was funded with 9 percent low-income housing tax credits, a Freddie Mac permanent loan and subordinate Surtax financing from Miami-Dade County. Protulis Towers is located in the Brownsville community of Miami-Dade County, which, as with the wider region, is in significant need of increased high-quality housing at attainable rents.
Druey: The community has truly embraced the senior affordable housing projects in which we have been involved. We provided financing for Li’l Abner in the Sweetwater submarket of Miami, which is the area’s newest workforce and affordable housing development to bring 647 units to the market. Ludlam Trail Towers is another one, with 64 senior affordable housing units.
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What made Interurban forge new plans to bring more senior affordable housing units to South Florida? Tell us more about your commitment to the senior population in this area.
Morrow: In our pursuit to bring more affordable housing to South Florida, we created Interurban, Integra’s affordable housing division. Our start in senior affordable housing development resulted from needing to deliver a solution to a specific challenge. Take, for example, Mosaico’s story. The work with HUD, state and local government agencies, institutional financing sources including Boston Financial and R4 Capital and other critical stakeholders resulted in securing 4 percent low-income housing tax credits, tax-exempt bonds and project-based Section 8 vouchers to finance Mosaico, and the delivery of replacement housing to serve as the new home for 1809 Brickell’s low-income elderly residents.
In the past five years, Centennial invested more than $150 million in affordable and workforce housing in Southeast Florida. What made you commit to doubling your investment in just one year?
Druey: We focus on areas with great need and demand, and affordable housing is a critical sector today in Florida. Mortgage and rental prices have increased, leading to greater hardship for lower-income individuals who serve as important members of our community. Financing for affordable housing is an attractive area to expand Centennial Bank’s services because we are supporting what is traditionally a high-density product with the goal of providing a greater quantity of housing. Between development incentives and the ability for affordable housing products to generally stabilize upon delivery, it is a win-win scenario for all parties involved.
How much will Centennial focus on financing senior affordable housing developments going forward?
Druey: Our goal this year is to exceed our investment value from last year, so we are focusing on a push in South and Southwest Florida. Areas hit by Hurricane Irma, such as Sarasota and Bradenton, are in great need of affordable development, as well as markets with unprecedented housing prices.
Apart from drastically increasing demand, what makes the affordable senior housing sector attractive in the long term?
Morrow: Low-income elderly housing developments are stable assets that, due to the enormous need, lease up rapidly and quickly achieve and maintain full occupancy. Also, knowing the real impact—beyond bricks and mortar—that new, high-quality housing developments make in elderly households’ lives is meaningful and we’re grateful to be able to deliver each new unit to market.
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