Florida Hometown Democracy spokesman Wayne Garcia says that one reason the ballot initiative has gotten the attention of national media outlets (including Fox News and The New York Times) is because Florida was ground zero for the housing crisis, and Amendment 4 is an attempt to turn the page on the era of booms and bust caused by reckless growth.
Hometown Democracy President Lesley Blackner took the Times on a tour of failed housing developments last month, and the paper reported:
Even now, with about 300,000 residential units sitting empty around the state, the push to build continues. Since 2007, local governments have approved zoning and other land use changes that would add 550,000 residential units and 1.4 billion square feet of commercial space, state figures show.
So for Ms. Blackner, a Palm Beach lawyer with a Mercedes full of paperwork, the real estate crisis is not just the fault of Wall Street, Washington or misguided borrowers; it is also the back-scratching bond between elected officials and builders — a common source of frustration in weak real estate markets around the country wherever developers are still fighting to add more housing.
In Florida, at least, Ms. Blackner hopes to put an end to the chronic oversupply with a ballot initiative she has labeled “Hometown Democracy.”
The state’s political leaders have lined up against the proposal, Blackner says, but what have they offered as an alternative?
Doug Buck, a spokesman for the Florida Home Builders Association, says the same cheap credit and soaring property values that fueled Florida’s rapid growth also allowed developers to absorb costs, such as increased impact fees — the payments developers make to local governments to help offset the costs of infrastructure.
Now, builders are struggling to sell homes for what it costs to build them. As a result, Buck says, additional regulatory costs (such as the extra time and uncertainty Amendment 4 would add to the process of seeking comprehensive plan amendments, assuming their construction requires them) could be crippling for builders who are already feeling a squeeze.
Blackner points out that not all new construction requires plan amendments.
Buck’s concerns about the costs of regulation recall the platform of Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott, which calls for easing the “regulatory burden” on Florida businesses. The Home Builders Association has endorsed Scott for governor.
But Buck says they consider the defeat of Amendment 4 their highest electoral priority — in part because it may be easier to elect a new governor than to amend the state’s constitution.