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Roundup 11-8-2019

November 7, 2019

Contents

Transportation

— The Outline of a Plan

— Transportation and the Built Environment

— Ferry

— HART

— Westshore Interchange

— Meanwhile, at the MPO

Downtown – Seasons

Airport–ish – SkyCenter One

Tourism – No Surprise

— One More Thing

Economic Development/Economy – Rent

Meanwhile, In the Rest of North America

Because We Can

________________________________


Transportation


— The Outline of a Plan

The Mayor released the recommendations of her transportation panel (report here). It is worth reading the entire document.  It is too long to put it all here, but it is not too long to read in a relatively short time.  We will just discuss some highlights.  First, there is this:

Expanding transit service and implementing new, dedicated right-of-way transit options are the most critical actions the Mayor and City can take to maintain a good quality of life for residents and ensure continued prosperity for people and businesses in Tampa. The City must resolve the disconnect between the City’s Comprehensive Plan and development patterns, continue coordination between transportation agencies, integrate and allow for new technology, and develop a citywide mobility plan to establish how to use the right-of-way to maximize mobility now and in the future. With the new ‘All for Transportation’ surtax funding, the City is positioned to achieve unprecedented development of a multimodal transit system and should immediately begin the work of building a multimodal transit network.

(pg. 4 of the report) Setting aside the All for Transportation portion (which we will get to in a bit), that is a pretty solid statement. We especially like both the emphasis on dedicated right-of-way (as long as it is truly dedicated) and touching on the disconnect between plans and development patterns. Having transit that is free from traffic and fixing development patterns to maximize the usefulness of any transit investments are key to a proper transportation system.

Now to some of the suggestions (Again, we are not going to quote everything.  You should read the document):

2. Focus on implementing the following strategic transit initiatives:

a. Modernize and Expand Streetcar Service. The City should a) commit to an aggressive implementation of the existing plan to modernize the streetcar by increasing capacity and speed to extend into Tampa Heights, b) begin planning for the extension beyond Tampa Heights (Phase 4), and c) work with HART to develop a long-term funding approach for streetcar system operations, focusing on maintaining high quality levels of service and free and/or reduced fares.

b. Leverage CSX Rail Lines. HART has proposed an Initial Assessment of the CSX rail lines which is targeted to begin in 2020 and be funded by surtax revenue. The Initial Assessment will determine the viability of the rail lines for future passenger service. Public engagement and technical analysis are needed to determine the type of service (local, inter-city, regional, etc.), necessary land use changes, and appropriate redevelopment opportunities around future stations.

As a HART Board Member, the Mayor and City staff should be integrally involved in the Initial Assessment. Depending on the outcome of the Initial Assessment, the City should work with HART and Hillsborough County to perform a comprehensive corridor study to determine the most appropriate and feasible type of service to be deployed on the CSX corridor. It is important that the City work to ensure that the transit service selected will be the most appropriate to serve the City’s transportation needs, and most importantly, that there is broad-based community engagement and community land use planning incorporated as an integral part of the project.

c. Connect Westshore, Downtown, and USF. Begin planning and project development for major projects along key transit corridors starting with the connection from Downtown to Westshore and Downtown to USF.

For the Downtown to USF route, HART has begun a BRT study for this connection. As a HART Board Member, the Mayor should be actively involved in the outcome and in advancing the project forward. At the same time, the City can begin to evaluate ‘transit-oriented development’ options along the corridor that would maximize the amount of walkable residential, business, and leisure space nearby. For the Downtown to Westshore link, the City should work with HART to begin a feasibility study. In connection with these identified priorities, the City can identify additional connection corridors and help to facilitate a pilot demonstration project in coordination with HART and other agencies.

(pg 5 of report) These elements have already been touched on by the Mayor, and we generally agree with them (though any BRT has to be real BRT, not the “BRT” plan).

As we have pointed out previously, we believe that the downtown to Westshore connection is best served rail that connects to and continues the CSX lines, which already go from downtown to USF (and beyond).  Moreover, looking beyond the city limits, the CSX tracks connect to important parts of the County and beyond and would join much of the near County to the City (and could be expanded to go north of the airport from Westshore).  That would make it more effective and useful.  Given how this area is built and the jurisdictional lines, any real transit would not be a City only project.  While we understand this is a City report and, thus, focuses on the City, any large investment in transit should serve the larger area.  That should be reflected in the City’s ideas.  Tampa does not stand or thrive alone.  And if will not have tax money without support in the County.  And, probably more importantly, it will not be able to build many of the ideas in the report by itself without County support. (Focusing transit ideas exclusively on the City will lead to repetition of the mistakes of the past which focused all transit within the city limits and went nowhere.)

Continuing on the report notes that bus service needs to be improved, which is important to say but does not need more comment.  It has been known for quite a long time (and that is something where the City needs the County).  They also note the need for multi-modal centers in Westshore, downtown, and the USF area.  That is fine to say as a general idea but does not need comment until the modes are known.

After dealing with transit, the report discusses greenways and trails.  Needless to say, the report is for them. One element we particularly like is this:

Ensure that the planning of greenways and trails is performed with an eye to providing a viable transportation option, not simply a recreational function, and is consistent with the guiding principles of the Citywide Mobility Plan.

(pg 7 of report)  As we have said a number of times, we are all for greenways and trails, and exercise is important, but greenways and trails should go somewhere.  If they do, they will get much more use and truly enhance the area. We are happy they made that intent clear.  (As part of that, we wish that they had noted that simply painting a sharrow or line on a road does not make a bike lane, greenway or a trail.) And, once again, given how the area is laid out (for instance, some of the most efficient connections of various areas might cross jurisdictional boundaries a few times), this should be coordinated with the County.

Not surprisingly, the report urges active adoption and implementation of Vision Zero ideas.  We generally support that, though we have a slight issue with one thing:

f. Transportation and land use development policies, standards, programs, and design decisions should be reviewed and updated to prioritize preserving lives and implementing supporting infrastructure such as sidewalks, street lighting, and mid-block crossings

(pg 8 of report)  Most of that is fine.  The one issue we have is with mid-block crossings.  We are not opposed to all mid-block crossings. Sometimes, due to poor planning, there is an excessive distance between traffic lights and no logical place to cross a street safely. There a mid-block crossing might make sense. However, in a number of places mid-block crossings are being installed in a bizarre way. And it needs to be remembered that there is an amount of responsibility for pedestrians to behave safely and walk a few feet to cross the street, which is essentially acknowledged in the next line of the report.  When there is no real burden to using existing crossings, new crossings should be avoided.

Finally, the report touches on parking:

3. Develop a program to modernize the City’s off-street parking requirements. The City’s off-street parking requirements should promote shared parking opportunities based on a dynamic parking plan which incorporates the City’s expanding transit and multimodal facilities networks, land use, parking demand, and parking costs. Specific recommendations include:

a. Evaluate current minimum parking requirements for affordable housing developments in an effort to reduce housing costs.

b. Establish maximum parking requirements and consider eliminating parking requirements for redevelopment projects in downtown.

c. Deploy shared parking programs to improve availability and maximize usage of current public and private parking resources.

(pg 11 of report)  While this is quite general, we support reducing or eliminating parking requirements, at least in urban areas like downtown.  We still think most developers will build parking, but the rules now are excessive.

Overall, we like the report.  Of course, it is all just ideas at the moments.  Hopefully, it will be implemented, with a few select tweaks. (And the specifics of any project and route will matter.)  But of course, that takes money, which brings us back to what the Mayor said about All For Transportation:

She delivered that assessment at an event to promote the findings of a transportation advisory board she appointed in June. But its vision of an interlinked pattern of rail, bus, streetcar and pedestrian and bike paths appears contingent on the fate of the 1-cent transit tax approved by voters last year that remains in legal limbo.

Castor is undaunted, saying the city doesn’t have time to wait for a judicial resolution. The voters’ will is clear, she said, vowing to find other sources of money if Tampa’s annual share of more than $30 million in tax revenue doesn’t materialize.

“I would have to take a few moments if that was struck down, then we would stand back up and look for other ways to fund these transportation initiatives,” she said, adding later that pushing for another vote in 2020 would be an “obvious” strategy.

We like the attitude, though it remains true that, while there are things in the plan that can get done without AFT money, there are others that would be much harder. The bottom line is that one way or another transportation needs to be funded (and real transit needs to be built) or this area will fall further behind the competition. The report essentially acknowledges that and, though we think it needs to be tweaked, is definitely something we can work with.


— Transportation and the Built Environment

That brings us to a piece in the Business Journal involving a conversation with an urban design expert from USF.  You can find the whole thing here. It all fits in with what we said above: having transit that is free from traffic and fixing development patterns to maximize the usefulness of any transit investments are key to a proper transportation system.

First, a few numbers that point out the cost of not having decent transit and transportation alternatives.

TBBJ: What’s missing from the discussion about that economic opportunity?

Sabia: It’s important that we set a series of performance-based goals for that, because that’s how we’re going to be able to measure the need that the community has and where we want to get to and how we fill the gap. When we look at Hillsborough and what households are spending on housing and transportation combined, we exceed the national average. The national average is 51 percent, and we float between 56 and 57 percent of household income spent on housing and transportation. Our transportation allotment of that is significantly higher – 25, 26 percent of household income on transportation alone. The national average is 19 percent. If you are in a community near transit and transit use, you’re spending about 14 to 16 percent of your income on transportation. That’s a huge difference, right? If everyone could gain anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of their household income back because of all these different transit options, then all of the sudden we’re looking at a very different economic model in our community. And that’s not even addressing the affordable housing issue yet. That’s just transportation.

Once again, our cost of living relative to our incomes is high.  And the cost of transportation, and the lack of alternatives, is a good part of that. (Needless to say, paying for express lane tolls while driving will probably not lower someone’s transportation spending.)

Then, there was an exchange in parts that really touches on the “BRT” plans failings, especially regarding transit-oriented development and the potential for the “BRT” plan to promote development and economic activity.

TBBJ: What is misunderstood when it comes to the potential for economic impact around transit and transit-oriented development?

Sabia: There’s a few things. One is, what does it mean and what does it incorporate? We’re looking at how we can create dense, compact, mixed-use development around transit and near transit. When we say “near,” it’s really within that first quarter mile or half mile of the station location. It’s the best opportunity to create really walkable vibrant places that connect people to transit and to all of the amenities, and access to jobs and education and all of those things that help us not only with local economic issues, but also regional economic issues. Then the other piece is the value capture component. When we look at economic development, transit-oriented development, the development itself around the transit system gives us opportunities to really capture the value that transit confers. If we can figure out exactly which mechanisms we want to be able to utilize, we can not only fund specific components of the development, like better infrastructure for walking and biking, and affordable housing, but we can also help to fund maintenance and expansion of transit lines in the long term, too.

* * *

TBBJ: Talk about the study you just recently wrapped up looking at TOD and value capture in Tampa Bay, and looking at the regional system as a component of that.

Sabia: One of the things that we connected to was those local systems. Because in order to really attain the most in terms of economic development is that you need to have that quarter mile and a half mile, and even up to the full mile in a transit supportive zone. If you’re right up against an interstate or freeway, you’re going to lose out on your most valuable development. So we moved it off of those and said that we thought a regional system should connect to the local system in order to benefit the most from the development potential. Because the interstate itself takes up the footprint of your most valuable land.

That pretty much sums it up, (though you could add that the interstate gets in the way of people getting to and engaging with, and, therefore, development on, both sides, and, therefore, development on, of the transit line).  Simply put, the interstate is not where good transit goes, especially a core system and in an urban area.  TBARTA may want the core to run on the expanded interstate, but it is suboptimal for an actual system and the area it serves, to say the least.

Remember, the “BRT” plan was chosen mostly because it was cheap, not because it was good. We need real transit.  But, if we are going to spend the money, we should build it properly from the beginning.  Building a bad idea will accomplish little and still leave us with all the needs – and they will be even more expensive to address later.


— Ferry

The Cross-Bay Ferry started its new season last week for its limited service:

It will run Wednesday through Sunday, with no service on Monday or Tuesday, Nov. 1 through April 30, 2020. . .

The ferry will operate for all Tampa Bay Lightning home games, even on days it is not normally scheduled to operate, and will remain in Tampa for 30 minutes after the end of each game.

And we were provided with the comments from local officials. Like this, which is true:

“We have got to look at all forms and all modes of transportation,” Castor said. “We may be one of the last areas to discover our waterways as a form of transportation, but we have discovered them … The ridership has increased every single year. The favorability is off the charts. And it connects our communities together. It connects St. Petersburg with Tampa and it allows all of our residents and all of our visitors to see the wonderful and unique characteristics of both cities.”

There is no doubt that an hour fun cruise on the bay can be an enjoyable thing and has some appeal.

Then there were comments like this:

Ming Gao, Florida Department of Transportation District Seven modal development administrator, said HMS has been a great private partner. FDOT committed to three years of funding the service as a demonstration project and “the return on investment has been a strong one,” Gao said in a statement.

And

“The return on investment is incredible,” Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman said recently, echoing other local officials, as she voted to contribute $150,000 toward the popular new service. “This is a small amount of money for the number of riders.”

We get that return on investment is a buzzword/talking point, but does the Cross-Bay ferry really provide a good return on investment?  We have noted that relative to making the streetcar free, it was not. (see here)  And the Times had a whole article looking at the costs (here) that included nuggets like this:

Taxpayers spent $34.27 to cover each ride a person took on the ferry during its six-month pilot season in 2016-17. That number dropped to $14.23 per boarding during its second season, but it was still much higher than the subsidies local governments pay for other modes of public transportation.

Hillsborough county’s buses operate at just over $6 per passenger trip, while the operating cost for Pinellas buses and Tampa’s TECO Line Streetcar are about $5 per boarding.

* * *

Tampa Bay’s first potential foray into dedicated transit service lies with the Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit project, which would connect downtown St. Petersburg with the beaches. Estimates submitted to the Federal Transit Authority project a per-person operating cost of about $3.15 per trip.

Even if the transit authority’s ridership estimate of 1.3 million passenger trips a year is inflated and the new route only sees a quarter of those, the proposed project would still receive a lower subsidy per ride than the ferry.

Or, as a Times editorial on the subject noted:

Tampa Bay’s bus systems are less than robust and too often viewed as a last resort for low-income residents. While the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority stands to benefit from the county’s recent 1-cent sales tax increase for transportation, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is starving for cash. Yet while taxpayers paid $14.23 per ferry boarding last year, the similar cost per passenger was $6.17 for HART and $4.94 for PSTA. Are public officials really more interested in spending public money on pleasure cruises than to help commuters get to work?

At this point, Tampa Bay does not have one viable bus rapid transit line. The proposed line that would connect downtown St. Petersburg with the beaches still awaits federal funding, and there are legitimate concerns about its potential success. Yet even it projects a per boarding cost of just $3.16. It could wind up being four times the cost and still not match the subsidy for the ferry.

Getting a serious conversation started about light rail that could link Tampa and St. Petersburg is even more difficult. The scars remain from failed referendums for county rail systems in both Hillsborough and Pinellas over the last decade, even as traffic has gotten worse. The state also isn’t any help. The Department of Transportation is determined to move forward with express toll lanes on Interstate 275 in Hillsborough and Pinellas, and state lawmakers are focused on toll roads to nowhere. Yet the cost per boarding for light rail systems in Denver, Charlotte and other metro areas that are Tampa Bay’s competitors is significantly less than the $14.23 per ferry boarding. Where is the long-term vision?

A ferry ride may be enjoyable and bring out your inner Jimmy Buffett, but it does not seem to be a good return on investment.

Then there is this view:

“In order to make this a permanent service, we’ve got to be able to have some data to show that people like it and that they’ll use it,” Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long said.

Unfortunately, an extremely limited, fun cruise schedule run only during tourist season does not really provide useful data for whether people would use year-round, real transit service.  The fact that the ferry operator proposal for a full-time ferry does not have daytime St. Pete-Tampa service would seem to be indicative of what they think, though.

None of this is to say that we oppose the Cross-Bay Ferry.  We don’t.  We just know it is not transit. No matter how many times local officials say that the ferry is a real transportation alternative, it is a fun cruise. It is not a real alternative except for fun trips.  And that is fine, but we oppose subsidizing it out into the future.  (Frankly, the best thing that can be said about the government involvement in the Cross-Bay ferry is that it has been regional, which is not nothing, but it also is not transit.)

Additionally, we do not necessarily oppose a South County-MacDill ferry, which is the only transit ferry service so far proposed.  However, we think that deal needs to be vetted properly, and we would like it to be accessible to others in South Tampa.  Moreover, if, as proposed by the ferry company, there is St. Pete service on off hours, we see no reason that Hillsborough should pay for all the infrastructure and boats. (see that regionalism thing)

The bottom line is this: as nice as the trip may be, we have bigger priorities than fun cruises.


— HART

Notably, the whole ferry issue is now with HART. And this week, there were some surprising developments at HART.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board voted unanimously Monday to place its new CEO Ben Limmer on paid leave, citing allegations from a whistleblower about a purchasing issue.

Limmer has been with the agency for seven months. He was appointed after a national search to select a new leader following the departure of former CEO Katharine Eagan.

“The board received a letter Friday evening that can only be characterized as a whistleblower alleging improper conduct on behalf of the CEO in respect to procurement processes, vendor relations and related matters,” agency attorney David Smith said during Monday’s board meeting.

There are no details of the complaint, and we are not going to speculate.

The agency released a statement Monday saying Carolyn House Stewart, the agency’s director of risk and legal services, will serve as interim CEO.

Smith said he recommended Stewart for the role because she is an attorney and the whistleblower process is “fraught with legal risk.” He also cited her integrity and said she is well-regarded within the agency.

We shall see what happens.


— Westshore Interchange

The Business Journal had an article on the I-275/SR60 interchange (here).  While we are not going to get into the whole thing, there was this about the cost increase we (and others) noted last week:

Gwynn addressed the concerns commenters have with the rise in the price tag for the project as well as not spending the money on mass transit. The plan, which has been worked on for years, had a cost of roughly $600 million for construction, but it did not consider the design, express lanes and how express lanes will split in some areas. When it comes to right of way acquisition, Gwynn said businesses largely on the I-275/SR 60 area will be impacted but FDOT is currently speaking with them on relocating.

“By state law, we have to spend a certain part of strategic intermodal system money for roadways, ports, airports that move people and/or freight. The money is allocated statewide and is based on needs so we have to compete to get that money,” Gwynn said, stating it can’t simply be put toward another project like rail.

“We know we aren’t going to solve the problem by adding more lanes, but the express lanes will help create a reliable commute time for buses and cars,” Gwynn said. 

In other words, the express lanes are the reason for the more than doubling of the cost. The idea that express lanes fix congestion is questionable, but, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that express lanes will create reliable commute times.  They work by limiting the number of people who can use them by jacking up the cost when traffic is bad.  The entire purpose of the lanes is to not provide good service to the vast majority of drivers or eliminate congestion.  In fact, the purpose is to leave most drivers in more congestion (and the financial incentives of operating the express lanes also lean toward having more congestion in the free lanes).

Additionally, FDOT did not see fit to spend some extra money to make sure there was no more bottleneck at the end of the bridge in the free lanes.

Finally, the last line of the quote is the comment acknowledgement that a road focus will not fix our transportation issues.  And, of course, after this is built and gets too congested, then what?


— Meanwhile, at the MPO

Speaking of express lanes, the MPO had a meeting this week.

The Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization has adopted its long range transportation plan with major changes.

On Tuesday evening, the transportation policy-making board heard from a handful of public speakers on its latest draft of the 2045 Long Range Transportation Plan, which is meant to help determine and prioritize funding certain projects over the next 20 years.

Among other things that happened,

Board members also debated having additional tolls on interstates. However, Florida Department of Transportation District 7 Secretary David Gwynn said the board should keep tolls in regard to the Westshore Interchange project in the plan for:

He cautioned the members not to change the language for that area as the state awarded $1.4 billion for that project and if the language is changed for that project, the board would jeopardize that funding.

“My concern is if we go in with something different, it introduces risks to us. To change it at this point … I don’t know what would happen. I’d feel more comfortable if we have the $1.4 billion in our hands. Changing the MPO’s direction at this point of time is not the right time to do it,” Gwynn said. He said the toll lanes are meant to help the flow of traffic and it’s possible to change the lanes in the future if needed.

Not that we expected the MPO to change those plans, but isn’t the argument against changing the plans always that the money for doing needed fixes will be jeopardized with any changes?  Isn’t the essence of the plan, as explained above, the express lanes?  Aside from a few ramp changes, what else is there but express lanes?  Given that, we are curious: what are the possible future changes and when exactly is the right time to make them?

In any event, there was something else that was very interesting:

Talk of needing connections and reducing congestion led the commissioners into discussing use of the CSX lines. Overman said she would like the board to formally support the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority entering a competitive process of negotiations with CSX to obtain rights to use lines for commuter rail. The MPO would also make this a top priority.

Overman gave the example of how the region came together to say that the Westshore Interchange was its top priority and it now will be funded through a $1.4 billion award from the state.

Kemp also chimed in stating how SunRail and Orlando worked together to use the CSX line and South Florida’s Tri-Rail and how it’s a cost-effective option.

The motion passed unanimously to add it to the plan.

Needless to say, we view that move very favorably.  That extra $800 million for express lanes could have gone a decent way to getting the CSX lines.


Downtown – Seasons

Last week, we discussed the Seasons two building proposal.  This week:

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority signed off Thursday on two proposed apartment towers that would rise 41 and 27 stories above downtown Tampa.

* * *

The towers, at 476 feet and 323 feet tall, have been proposed near the intersection of E Whiting and N Morgan streets by Tampa Downtown Invest LTD, a subsidiary of the German real estate development company Dr. Schrobsdorff & Dr. Herrmann, with design work by Jahn Architecture of Chicago. No construction schedule has been announced. 

There was also a new rendering:

From the Times – click on picture for article

That is not quite as yellow as previous renderings.  As we noted last week, for the most part we like this project.  Our biggest concern is whether the shorter building has 27 floors of panels or windows on the south and east side.  The rendering is not clear, but it still appears that there is a good chance they are 323 feet of panels, which would not be the best look.

This project has been mostly flying under the radar.  We will be interested to see if it gets built.


Airport–ish – SkyCenter One

The airport office building has begun construction.

Construction is officially underway on SkyCenter One, a nine-story office tower at Tampa International Airport.

The 270,000-square-foot office building is part of the airport’s new SkyCenter development, a mixed-use project on airport property that also includes a new hotel, an atrium with a roof terrace and pedestrian bridge connecting the rental car center to SkyCenter One and potentially another office tower.

 

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

It looks nice enough, though, in all honesty, we are really looking forward to new service and the new airside being built.


Tourism – No Surprise

In tourism news, this was entirely expected:

Hillsborough County’s tourism industry had another solid year, bringing in record-breaking bed tax revenue once again.

Visit Tampa Bay, the agency charged with promoting the county to tourists, collected $35.4 million through its tourism tax on overnight stays during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. That beat last year’s record by nearly $1.5 million. The Tampa Bay region’s active tourism industry and growing number of hotels have contributed to steady climb in visitors over the last several years.

It is not surprising because, as we have documented previously, tourism is up generally.  Though it still is good.

And there is this:

During the previous fiscal year, the county added more than 1,000 new hotel rooms, according to STR, a company that analyzes tourism numbers. Visit Tampa Bay expects up to 2,000 to be added by 2022.

That is not a bad thing, either.  Meanwhile,

Visit St. Pete/Clearwater says its on track to beat its record, collecting more than $60 million in bed tax revenue this fiscal year, but September’s numbers are still being finalized.

We are glad there are record numbers.  Clearly, like elsewhere (see here and here), the sector remains strong.


— One More Thing

The Aquarium is also performing relatively well:

Attendance at the Florida Aquarium rose 5 percent over the past 12 months, topping 841,000, the most in more than two decades.

And the expectations are that is should do even better because:

Meanwhile, the neighborhood around the aquarium is growing up, too, with the maturation of the Channel District, the rise of Water Street Tampa and the growth of Port Tampa Bay’s cruise ship business, which now tops 1 million passengers a year.

We shall see.


Economic Development/Economy – Rent

There was an interesting report from Apartment List (here) regarding the rent burden in various metro areas.

In spite of a low unemployment rate and increasing wages, virtually half of American renter households struggle with their housing costs. According to the most commonly accepted measure of housing affordability, a household is considered to be “cost-burdened” if housing costs eat up more than 30 percent of household income. By that metric, 49.7 percent of American renter households were cost-burdened in 2018, according to newly-released data from the Census American Community Survey. This represents a slight increase in the cost burden rate over the previous year.  

Although the rate is still well below its 2011 peak, that improvement has been primarily driven by compositional changes in the rental market, namely, an influx of high-income renter households. Housing costs have amplified growing economic inequality in recent years — those at the low-end of the income distribution have seen their housing costs grow disproportionately fast, while the highest earners have actually seen their housing costs fall. In this report, we explore what the most recent data is telling us about the current state of the housing affordability crisis.

We are not going to get into all the details, but you can probably guess where this is going.  Among the many graphics was this:

From ApartmentList.com – click on picture for website

As we keep saying, while, yes, our housing costs are relatively low, so are our incomes.  You can say that for all of Florida, and the graphic makes the outcome pretty clear.  There is a good amount of housing cost stress.

And, even with increasing incomes, there was this showing the change in rent relative to the change in income:

Metro:                Tampa, FL

Change in Cost Burden Rate ’08-’18:                   -2%

Median Rent Growth ’08-’18:                                8%

Median Renter Income Growth ’08-’18:                4%

We suspect that the difference is, to some degree, the effect of all the building that has gone one in more urban parts of the area.  However, it is what it is.

We understand that someone moving from a northeast metro to this area finds a good deal.  However, for the people from here, the deal is not necessarily that good. Often times, they get a better deal by leaving and going to a more expensive place where they can make even more money (and have more opportunities).  That has long been the case.  It seems that it still is.  And it needs to be addressed.


Meanwhile, In the Rest of North America

There was more news about Quayside, Google’s proposed redevelopment project in Toronto. (here, here, and here).

The Google sister company Sidewalk Labs has agreed to scale back and refine its approach to a controversial hi-tech neighbourhood it has proposed for a swath of Toronto’s prime waterfront land.

Instead of developing 190 acres of property, as it pitched in June, Sidewalk agreed on Thursday to scale back its plan to the 12 acres it first envisioned in its response to a request for proposals two years ago.

Should the 12-acre project be successful, Sidewalk could seek to expand its smart city, but it will need to go through a formal process again.

Sidewalk has also agreed to store and process data collected in the project on Canadian soil, pay fair market value for the land at the time of sale, team up with one or more real estate partners and allow Canadian companies to use Sidewalk’s hardware and software patents.

You can read the whole article here, as well as a couple of more here and here.

Sidewalk Labs, a sister company of Google, had proposed rebuilding a chunk of land east of downtown in exchange for using Toronto as a beta test. In pushing back against that plan, Toronto reached a compromise that lets Sidewalk go ahead, but firmly under public control — setting a precedent for how governments around the world can harness the potential for “smart cities” without letting Big Tech dictate the terms.

After winning a competition in 2017 to build a smart city development on a 12-acre plot of derelict publicly owned land called Quayside, Sidewalk offered a dazzling array of innovations intended not just to push Toronto into the future, but also to act as a test bed and a model for similar developments worldwide.

Consider the difference in approach to how this area and Florida generally deal with tech companies (and things like autonomous vehicles).


Because We Can

Here is a nice picture for Water Street:

From Water Street – click on picture for Facebook page

Pretty impressive.

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