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Housing Costs Too Much? Then Work More, Mayor Says

Conservative Jim Naugle joins developers to fight an affordable-housing law in Fort Lauderdale. He suggests a 40-hour workweek is too little.

May 21, 2006|Brittany Wallman | South Florida Sun-Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Developers and the city's mayor are calling a proposed affordable-housing law unfair, communistic and doomed to failure. People could afford a place to live, the mayor said, if they were willing to work harder.

The city is under pressure from Broward County to pass a law. Otherwise, the county says it won't allow another wave of construction of thousands of condos downtown. South Florida's cities recently decided housing prices had reached crisis-level highs, and Fort Lauderdale is one of the first to seriously attempt passing a law to do something about it.

Fort Lauderdale's law would make residential developers pay for affordable housing, either by providing it within their housing complexes or by paying fees into a trust fund to subsidize housing for the middle class.

Mayor Jim Naugle, a conservative politician serving his final term, said people are mistaken if they think they are entitled to an affordable single-family house on a 40-hour-a-week work routine. People need to work more hours and settle for a condo or townhouse, Naugle said.

"I'm supposed to subsidize some schlock sitting on the sofa and drinking a beer, who won't work more than 40 hours a week?" he asked.

"I deny that there is a problem. You can buy condos all day for $160,000."

Working-class residents have told the city they want to buy a home but can't afford it.

Still, Naugle's opinions might hit home with some people.

"Gas is unaffordable. Now, do gas station owners need to go out and supply affordable gas?" asked Doug Eagon, president of Stiles Corp., which built many of downtown's big towers.

Naugle calls the proposed law a "luxury housing tax."

"The concept of this ordinance is 'from each according to his ability, to each according to need,' which is the 'Communist Manifesto,' " he said.

"One person is working two or three jobs to get ahead and one person isn't," he said. "Should we tax the person that's working hard to get ahead to pay for the one who isn't?"

Jim Carras, head of the nonprofit Broward Housing Partnership, countered the mayor's Marx by paraphrasing President Truman.

"A decent place to live is the right of every American.

"We have maybe stepped away from how we fund it, but even the most conservative Republicans in Congress and the state Legislature see a role for government," Carras said.

The median home price in Broward County in March was $368,100 for a house and $202,600 for a condo.

"We ought to let the free market work," said Bill Scherer, a lawyer-developer on the city's Downtown Development Authority.

Developers said they would pass the costs to other buyers, leading to increased housing prices overall.

Major developers on the Downtown Development Authority originally supported the concept of an affordable housing regulation. But they don't like the resulting proposal.

They want it rewritten to offer incentives to developers, and to spread the cost to the general public.

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