Brevard County Commissioner wants MIRA money for affordable housing
Using a Health First development project as a carrot, Brevard County Commissioner John Tobia is working to extract concessions from the Merritt Island Redevelopment Agency to change the way the agency allocates funds for projects.
Going forward, this redevelopment agency would be required to allocate a portion of its budget to parks and recreation, affordable housing and infrastructure spending, according to Tobia’s proposal. The rest of the expenses would be reserved for administrative costs.
The breakdown, as well as the procedures, are still unclear, but Tobia got approval from the County Commission on Tuesday for staff to investigate the possibility.
“I think it’s important for us to act, in the absence of MIRA bringing meaningful reform to a 10-year-old master plan,” Tobia said.
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His proposal is the culmination of a rapidly escalating series of events that began with Tobia gaining approval from his colleagues for staff to research the possibility of redrawing the agency’s boundaries. of redevelopment to exclude the Health First development project at the July 19 commission meeting.
As the staff continues its review, the contentious relationship between Tobia and MIRA has continued – and extended to Tobia seeking to dictate the agency’s spending priorities.
Community redevelopment agencies are one tool available to encourage development in degraded areas.
Tax entities such as the county are eligible to collect property taxes.
For a redevelopment agency district, however, most additional taxes collected due to additional development would belong to the redevelopment agency and would not be shared among the different taxing jurisdictions.
Much of health first the development site off State Route 520 would be owned by Health First, a non-profit organization, and is not subject to property taxes. Other for-profit projects on the site, however, would be subject to property taxes, with the tax money going to MIRA, since the property is located in the neighborhood.
If the Health First project site is removed from the MIRA District, other taxing authorities, including the county, are eligible to collect taxes on the new development.
Tobia said the county would lose hundreds of thousands of dollars if Health First stayed in the MIRA district — money that could be used to fund desperately needed affordable housing projects for residents.
To win over the other commissioners, Tobia made his distaste for the redevelopment agency’s expense clear, paying particular attention to a sign that MIRA purchased for nearly $21,000.
Convinced that the redevelopment agencies needed to do more to address the affordable housing situation, Tobia won approval from the County Commission at its August 16 meeting to draft a letter to send to the various community redevelopment agencies, the urging them to play a bigger role in addressing rising house prices and rents.
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The letter, dated Aug. 18, highlighted how affordable housing has become an issue for the area. He cites a statistic from the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies, citing that “people earning less than 60% of the region’s median income cannot find affordable housing.”
He then goes on, urging redevelopment agencies this way: “We encourage you to consider this community crisis and make this funding part of your scope. We look forward to evaluating changes to your plan over the next 60 days. »
After winning the County Commission’s support for his two measures, Tobia used them as leverage in negotiations with MIRA, so that the commission could exercise greater control over the redevelopment agency’s spending.
MIRA board members then called a meeting on August 25 to address some of the points raised in the letter.
Some had concerns about the directive in the letter, particularly board member Wendy Ellis.
To ensure that MIRA does not continue in perpetuity or expand, the MIRA Commissioners and Board of Directors the members agreed to limit the agency’s liabilities. Ellis thinks this contradicts this agreement.
“It’s an extension of the reach, and that’s what I agreed not to do,” she said. “We agreed, and I agreed as president, that we would not expand the scope of our plan.”
Ellis was also concerned about the directive’s impact on the organization’s other responsibilities.
Ultimately, council members directed MIRA staff to explore the possibility of incorporating county spending priorities into MIRA’s future plan.
However, that did little to persuade Tobia to act at Tuesday’s county commission meeting, gaining board approval for staff to begin researching how the county can compel MIRA to allocate a portion of its budget to parks, affordable housing and infrastructure.
“If MIRA does not act, we must act in their absence,” Tobia said. “I don’t know what that action is, to provide them with this plan and say, ‘we expect you to do this’, to kick them out and take over from us, if they’re not going to take this seriously or s get rid of it with this. I don’t want to do this.
MIRA staff and board members attended the meeting and said they would work to accommodate the directive from the County Commission.
“I think we are already moving in that direction,” MIRA President Marcus Herman said. “We asked the staff to do the same thing they decided to do. We asked our staff to look at affordable housing, and it might work. We are rewriting our plan.
The concern, however, is how the directive will affect MIRA’s current commitments.
“It’s going to be tough,” Herman said. “I will try to have more conversations with the commissioners to make sure they understand how this links us. If they still think that’s the best way to go, we’re going to take what they give us and make the most of it.