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Can Site Sourcing Tech Help Solve Florida’s Housing Crisis?

For most people, Florida conjures up visions of theme parks, sun and sea (perhaps the occasional alligator, too), but the Sunshine State has a serious problem, and it’s not the Buccaneers trying to replace Tom Brady. Instead, it’s a critical shortage of affordable rental homes catering to extremely low-income households (ELIs).

The numbers paint a worrying picture. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLHIC), more than two in 10 (21%) of all renter households across Florida are ELI —those whose income level is at or below the poverty guideline. The maximum income for a four-person extremely low-income household at the state level is $26,500. The annual household income needed to afford a two-bedroom rental home at HUD’s Fair Market Rent is $63,622. That is a major affordability gap.

Plenty of factors are at play — the job market, wages and the cost of building materials, to name a few. However, fundamentally there is simply a lack of available affordable rental housing across Florida. The NLHIC estimates that the shortage of affordable rental homes for extremely low-income renters is 443,892. That’s a gargantuan deficit.

Cue the Live Local Act, state legislators’ attempt at turning the tide. Also known as SB 102, this comprehensive, statewide workforce housing strategy is designed to increase the availability of affordable housing opportunities for Florida’s workforce. In a sign of just how concerned legislators are about the ELI rental problem, the Florida Senate unanimously passed the bill by a vote of 40 to 0 earlier this year. Not a single state senator denies that housing affordability is a major issue.

The Live Local Act introduces a variety of measures to unlock rental housing development, such as height, density and tax exemptions. It also allows developers to build on land previously designated for commercial, industrial and mixed-use purposes. In short, it says to developers: “Get building, and fast.” However, building 443,892 affordable rental homes at pace is easier said than done.

One of the biggest issues is site selection. Yes, the Live Local Act has opened up new land for development, but assessing thousands and thousands of potential sites isn’t exactly straightforward. Developers use a huge range of data points to accurately assess the viability of potential residential sites — comparables, ownership, zoning, building permits and future land use, for example. Then there’s the need to understand rezoning applications, environmental resource permits and hazard data. All that is before developers have even begun to consider whether local demographic data aligns with their target market.

Gathering this information manually is a huge issue, particularly when state senators want developers to move fast. Manual processes are time-consuming and dangerously prone to human error, which increases the risk of overlooking crucial details. Plus, manual assessment often relies on disparate and inconsistent data sets, as well as many different platforms and tools to cover every step, resulting in a fragmented and inefficient approach. All told, the manual approach causes significant delays, meaning missed opportunities and increased costs for developers, as well as fewer rental units for the state.

The opportunities are there for developers, they just have to be unlocked. The key to doing that is technology. Site-sourcing platforms like our own are dedicated to helping developers across Florida get to the best sites faster. Site-sourcing technology addresses the pain points of traditional site acquisition, by searching through huge volumes of data to find opportunities that match a developer’s ideal criteria, in a fraction of the time.

Developers can spot risks more quickly, discount sites and move on to the next, whilst the “one-stop-shop” nature of these platforms streamlines the prospecting phase and eliminates the need for extensive independent research across multiple tools. Plus, site-sourcing platforms lower the barrier to entry so that a more diverse range of companies can build what communities truly need.

Fundamentally, technology like this enables faster, more precise, data-driven decision-making, enhancing the likelihood of more developments and ensuring their success. For developers and state legislators, this is a win/win, leading to faster project timelines and more affordable rental stock hitting the market at volume.

Let’s be crystal clear; legislation alone will not change the lives of thousands of ELI households. Legislation has opened up a pathway to affordable rental development, but that path still has to be navigated by developers themselves. Relying on outdated manual site assessment will be like walking that path in a pair of lead boots — slow, inefficient and risky. Utilizing site sourcing platforms like our own will be like bounding down that path in a pair of rocket-propelled sneakers, resulting in more development sites unlocked, more affordable rental housing for Florida and countless lives dramatically improved.