South Florida’s evolving housing market, and housing diversity for economic prosperity.
Southeast Florida’s housing history over the century begins with the small, compact towns strung like pearls along Henry Flagler’s Florida FEC Railway. These towns had farms and ranches on their periphery. When passenger rail was the dominant means of long distance transportation of both passengers and goods, these towns grew compactly around their FEC stations. Conventional use-based zoning had not yet been invented, so towns grew with a rich mixture of uses and housing types shaped nimbly by the needs of the market. One can still visit many of these original compact town centers today and see a rich assortment of mixed-use buildings, cottages, larger houses and small apartment buildings all sitting within close proximity of one-another.
The dawn of the national “Golden Age of the Automobile” in the 194Os coincided with the proliferation of use-based zoning. This period saw the beginning of rapid growth of low-density, highly homogenous development patterns. Over the next half century, Southeast Florida’s landscape rapidly transformed from a series of small, compact towns into a collection of housing subdivisions, apartment complexes, office parks and shopping malls. Much of this new development was designed around the auto- mobile and was quite difficult to negotiate by any other means of transportation. The national image of Southeast Florida was of the tile-roofed single family detached ranch house under palm trees with a garage door in front. This was, by far, the dominant form of housing built during this period, and this suburban product sold very well to families and retirees seeking to move away from the decanting cities further north.
Today rural and suburban lifestyles continue to be popular, but a new and very different image of the ideal living arrangement for many in South Florida can also be seen. As Southeast Florida runs out of room to expand outward, a second wave of development is occurring in the region’s centers. The new development and rehabbing of historic structures in these areas has a great deal in common with the development patterns of Southeast Florida’s original towns along the FEC line. For the first time in a half century, a substantial diversity of housing options is being constructed.
These new small apartment buildings, mixed-use buildings, rowhouses, and compact cottages are being designed with a new awareness of the importance of well-designed streets for pedestrian and cyclist comfort.
The trend toward a balanced range of housing options in Southeast Florida, with urban choices being added to the region’s historic inventory of rural and suburban choices, is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. The burgeoning diversity of hous- ing options being provided in Southeast Florida caters to the region’s rapidly changing demographics. Many baby boomers who moved to the region to raise their families are now empty nesters and retirees. Many are exchanging the large yards they once desired for housing choices requiring less maintenance and closer proximity to arts, culture, and recreation.
Many in the younger generation also crave close proximity to urban activity and stimulation. Providing the housing options these young people seek, especially in price ranges they can afford, will be a key to attracting the workforce needed to propel Southeast Florida’s economic prosperity on the coming years.
Affordable housing in the mix – it’s the right thing to do and it contributes to economic prosperity.
To maximize the economic benefit of new development in Southeast Florida, affordable workforce housing should be a part of the mix.
Rather than forcing the workforce to “drive until they qualify” in order to find options they can afford, the provision of affordable housing choices close-in and near to transit and places of employment helps to promote a reduction in “housing plus transportation” costs. This reduction in combined employee living expenses helps make a highly skilled workforce more available to employers. This in turn helps to make Southeast Florida’s businesses more competitive in national and global markets.
Providing options for reducing “housing plus transportation” expenses also leaves households with more buying power for other goods and services. This in turn will help to further stimulate the Southeast Florida economy over time.