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Would Moving the USB Help with Affordable Housing, and more

June 8, 2024 Weekly Newsletter

This article is the fourth in a series aimed at educating the community about the potential move of the urban service boundary and associated issues. If you missed the first article, please click here, the second article can be found here. And the third article in on this page.

The Fallacy of Urban Service Boundary Expansion

for Affordable Housing

Expanding the Urban Service Boundary (USB) is often touted as a solution for affordable housing, but this is a misconception. In reality, focusing on higher-density development within the current boundary is a more effective and sustainable approach.

Misconceptions About Affordability

Expanding the USB can lead to sprawl, resulting in higher costs for infrastructure, increased traffic congestion, and loss of open spaces. This approach does not guarantee affordable housing. Moreover, such expansions often lead to financialized housing markets where prices are driven by macroeconomic forces rather than local demand and supply dynamics. Housing, in this context, behaves more like a financial product than a basic need, exacerbating affordability issues.

High Costs of Infrastructure and Maintenance

The initial infrastructure costs for expanding the USB are substantial, and maintaining this infrastructure over time adds to the financial burden on local governments. These costs are often passed on to residents, through impact fees and other methods, negating the supposed affordability benefits of expanding the boundary. Moreover, the strain on public services such as schools, hospitals, and emergency services increases, requiring additional funding that further burdens taxpayers.

Effective Solutions Within the USB

Increasing densities within the current USB can provide affordable housing options for service workers, young families, and seniors. This approach makes better use of existing infrastructure and preserves natural resources. By promoting infill development and the construction of smaller, more affordable housing units, cities can address housing needs without the unsustainable sprawl.

The Benefits of TDRs

A Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program can help manage growth by transferring development potential to locations inside the USB. This strategy supports higher-density development in suitable areas while protecting rural and natural spaces. TDR programs are a cost-effective way to increase housing supply without expanding the USB, preserving open spaces, and reducing the environmental impact of development.

Financial Inefficiencies of USB Expansion

Large-scale affordable housing projects often require substantial public subsidies to be financially viable. For instance, in Brainerd, Minnesota, a 78-unit affordable housing project required around $12 million in subsidies. This equates to approximately $154,500 per unit, highlighting the inefficiency and unsustainability of such approaches. This level of subsidy is neither scalable nor replicable on the scale needed to address housing shortages effectively.

Disconnection from Local Needs

Affordable housing needs to be closer to where people work and have access to public transportation. Expanding the USB to develop affordable housing in remote areas disconnects residents from essential services and employment opportunities, thereby increasing transportation costs and reducing overall quality of life.

Environmental and Social Impacts

Expanding the USB often leads to the loss of agricultural lands, natural habitats, and open spaces. This not only affects local ecosystems but also diminishes the quality of life for residents. Additionally, such expansions can lead to the displacement of existing communities, further exacerbating social inequalities.

Collaborative Efforts for Better Outcomes

Collaboration between the county and its cities is vital for effective planning. By working together, we can identify ideal locations for higher-density development and TDRs, leading to better use of resources and improved community outcomes. Local governments can play a pivotal role by reforming zoning regulations to facilitate the development of diverse housing types, such as accessory dwelling units and small lot homes, which are more responsive to local market conditions and more affordable to a broader range of residents.


The focus should shift from expanding the USB to enhancing development within it. The fallacy of USB expansion as a panacea for affordable housing must be recognized, and sustainable, scalable solutions should be prioritized to create genuinely affordable housing and resilient communities.


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If you're interested in learning more about affordable housing and the complexities that make it so challenging, check out the book Escaping the Housing Trap: The Strong Towns Response to the Housing Crisis by Charles L. Marohn Jr. and Daniel Herriges. This insightful book looks at the fundamental tension between housing as a financial product and housing as a basic need, a topic crucial for understanding the housing crisis.

In Escaping the Housing Trap, Marohn and Herriges provide a thorough yet accessible history of housing policy in the United States, explaining how it has led us to our current predicament. They argue that only local changes on a neighborhood or city-wide scale can restore balance to the housing market. The book is essential reading for anyone concerned with the future of housing in America. It covers:

  • Housing as an Investment: The book discusses how the influx of large-scale investments into neighborhoods has transformed housing into a financial commodity, often disconnecting prices from local realities and needs.

  • Housing as Shelter: The authors explore zoning policies and the "Not In My Backyard" (NIMBY) mentality, explaining how these factors have contributed to the current housing crisis.

  • Strong Towns Approach: The book outlines the Strong Towns approach to solving the American housing crisis, emphasizing sustainable, bottom-up solutions over large-scale, top-down interventions.

This book is particularly relevant to the ongoing debate about expanding the Urban Service Boundary (USB). As discussed in the article above this, expanding the USB is often misrepresented as a solution for affordable housing, but in reality, it can exacerbate affordability issues. Escaping the Housing Trap provides the context and arguments needed to understand why increasing densities within the current USB is a more sustainable approach.

Escaping the Housing Trap is a must-read for anyone looking to understand and address the challenges of affordable housing. By focusing on local, scalable solutions and rethinking the role of housing in our society, Marohn and Herriges offer a roadmap for creating more resilient and affordable communities. This book, coupled with a critical examination of policies like USB expansion, can guide us toward more effective and sustainable housing strategies.


Will Vero Beach City Council DQ Three Corners bid over emails to city? (TCPalm) - Vero Beach officials held a special City Council meeting yesterday to determine if the developer chosen for the Three Corners project should be disqualified for allegedly violating the request-for-proposal terms by improperly communicating with city officials. The Council voted to throw out the whole RFP Process and redo it because it was deemed as tainted. We'll have more on this next week, but the fallout from the council meeting was after our publication deadline.

Indian River County, Indian River Shores see increase in property values (TCPalm) - Property values in Indian River County increased in 2023, with Indian River Shores experiencing the highest growth at 12.6%, reflecting continued strong real estate market conditions.

Replacing elected Indian River County officials could become frivolous (TCPalm) - Indian River County School Board member Gene Posca proposed a policy to allow the removal of the chair or vice chair by majority vote if they no longer represent the board's interests, raising concerns about potential political motives and the risk of destabilizing the board's leadership.

Headline snooze: Uninspired plans for old Press Journal site (Vero News) - The vacant property on U.S. 1, previously home to the old Press Journal building, is being redeveloped into a storage facility, a carwash, and a fast-food restaurant, disappointing many Vero Beach residents who hoped for more creative use of the land. How many more storage facilities does Indian River County need?

Riverside Park boat ramp repairs back on schedule (Vero News) - After significant delays due to additional needed repairs and waiting for FEMA funding, the reconstruction of the Riverside Park boat ramp and floating docks damaged by Hurricane Nicole is now scheduled to begin in August and be completed by December.

Drainage fixes, septic tank conversions to cost mind-boggling millions (TCPalm) - Consultants estimate that fixing Sebastian’s stormwater system and increasing storage to handle major storms will cost $200 million, prompting discussions on whether residents can afford the necessary fee increases to fund these extensive repairs and maintenance.

Blue-Green Algae Task Force reviews Agriculture BMPs (South Central Florida Life) - The Blue-Green Algae Task Force reviewed the effectiveness of Agricultural Best Management Practices (BMPs) and emphasized the need for updated manuals, increased enrollment, and more investment in cost-share programs to improve water quality and manage nutrient runoff in Florida's agricultural areas.


Cyanobacteria Problem in Blue Cypress Lake

Last week, a Pelican Island Audubon team surveyed Ospreys around Blue Cypress Lake and discovered almost the entire shoreline covered with blue green algae, likely caused by recent rains washing contaminants into the lake. This issue likely stems from biosolids deposited in the area in 2018, which continue to impact the lake.

Addressing this problem requires immediate action. Possible solutions include planting vegetation to absorb and filter pollutants, constructing reservoirs to capture runoff, and advocating for legislative measures to ban biosolid deposition on agricultural land statewide. It's also essential to clean up areas where biosolids have already been deposited to prevent further contamination.

This issue may extend to other bodies of water, such as those in Brevard County. Public health is at risk, and it is crucial to act swiftly to prevent potential illnesses. Urgent action and community support are needed to protect our waterways and ensure a healthier environment for all.

Thank you to Pelican Island Audubon Society for alerting us to this issue and for permission to use these pictures taken on site at the lake.


Feds Still Weighing Wetlands Case Appeal (Florida Realtors) - The Biden administration is still deciding whether to appeal a federal judge's ruling that the U.S. improperly transferred wetland permitting authority to Florida, with the Justice Department opposing the state's request for expedited case handling while the decision-making process continues.

Lawsuits Targeting Plastic Pollution Pile Up as Frustrated Citizens and States Seek Accountability (Inside Climate News) - Citizens and states are increasingly filing lawsuits against the plastics industry to address pollution, with recent high-profile cases targeting companies for deceptive recycling claims and environmental damage, reflecting growing frustration and efforts to hold polluters accountable.

Lake Okeechobee level drops below 13 feet (South Central Florida Life) - Lake Okeechobee's water level has dropped below 13 feet, potentially allowing for new submerged aquatic vegetation to grow if levels do not rise too quickly from a major storm.

Osceola, St. Cloud propose massive hikes to their road impact fees (Orlando Sentinel) - Osceola County and St. Cloud are proposing significant increases in road impact fees, potentially adding over $15,000 to the cost of a new home, to address high population growth and rising construction costs, with public workshops and votes scheduled this summer to finalize the new fees.

First-of-its-kind project underway to restore Indian River Lagoon (ClickOrlando) - The Titusville Causeway Multi-Trophic Restoration and Living Shoreline Resiliency Action Project, a $4.2 million initiative combining multiple solutions to combat shoreline erosion, build storm resilience, and enhance wildlife habitat in the Indian River Lagoon, has begun and is expected to be completed by spring 2025.

Florida worries FEMA could lack disaster cash this hurricane season (Miami Herald) - With the busiest hurricane season on record predicted, FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund is projected to run out of cash by August, potentially leaving Florida and other states with significant expenses and slower recovery efforts if a major storm hits, unless Congress provides additional funding.

Who’s afraid of Hurricane Debby? The peculiar importance of a storm's name. (Grist) - The names given to hurricanes can significantly impact public perception and response, with particularly deadly storms often leading to the retirement of their names to avoid insensitive reuse, and studies suggesting that names can influence how seriously people take the threats posed by these storms.


Staying Safe in Extreme Heat: Tips and Precautions

As temperatures continue to increase, it is crucial to take the risks of extreme heat seriously, regardless of how long you have lived in an area. Summers are becoming hotter, posing new challenges and dangers that require our attention.

In Arizona, for example, hiking trails are closing due to extreme heat, and new cooling centers are opening to keep residents safe. This trend isn't isolated. Many regions are experiencing unprecedented heat waves that are impacting daily life. Even in areas accustomed to warm climates, the intensity of recent summers is causing concern. One person we talked to said that despite living in Texas for over 15 years without issues, their entire family experienced heat stroke multiple times over the past two summers, despite taking precautions.

Here are some essential tips to stay safe during extreme heat:

  1. Limit Outdoor Activities: Whenever possible, avoid spending extended periods outside during peak heat. This includes postponing sports practices, outdoor events, and even daily walks until early mornings or cooler days. Pets should also be kept indoors to prevent heat-related illnesses.

  2. Stay Hydrated: Drinking plenty of water is crucial. Increased fluid intake helps regulate your body temperature and prevents dehydration, which can exacerbate the effects of heat.

  3. Dress Appropriately: Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, and light-colored clothing. Hats and sunglasses can also provide additional protection from the sun.

  4. Take Frequent Breaks: If you must be outside, take regular breaks in shaded or air-conditioned areas. Resting periodically helps your body cool down and reduces the risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

  5. Check on Vulnerable Individuals: Extreme heat disproportionately affects young children, the elderly, and those with chronic medical conditions. Regularly check on family, friends, and neighbors who might be vulnerable. Ensure they have access to cool places and are staying hydrated.

As we navigate these increasingly hot summers, it is important to stay informed, take proactive measures, and support our community in staying safe. Extreme heat is a serious concern, and by working together, we can ensure the well-being of everyone in our community.


A different kind of youth activist: Meet the high schoolers who invented a microplastics solution (Grist) - High school students Victoria Ou and Justin Huang invented a device that filters microplastics from water using ultrasound waves, earning them top honors at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair and highlighting a different form of youth activism focused on environmental innovation and problem-solving.

Summer droughts in Northern hemisphere increasingly likely as seasonal streamflows change (ScienceDaily) - Declining snowfall in the Northern Hemisphere is altering seasonal streamflow patterns, leading to increased risks of summer droughts that could impact water and food security, ecosystem health, and hydropower generation, according to a study published in Nature.

Some countries could meet their total electricity needs from floating solar panels (ScienceDaily) - Floating solar photovoltaic (FPV) panels could potentially supply all the electricity needs of certain countries by utilizing just 10% of the surface area of lakes and reservoirs, with a global potential annual electricity generation of 1302 terawatt hours (TWh), according to a study published in Nature Water.

Thawing Permafrost: Not a Climate Tipping Element, But Nevertheless Far-Reaching Impacts (Environmental News Network) - Permafrost soils, which store significant organic carbon, are not a single global tipping point but rather exhibit numerous local and regional tipping points that thaw progressively with climate change, highlighting the urgency for immediate climate action to preserve permafrost and mitigate its impact on global warming, as per a study published in Nature Climate Change by the Alfred Wegener Institute.

People are Altering Decomposition Rates in Waterways (Environmental News Network) - Human activities are accelerating the decomposition rates of organic matter in rivers and streams globally, posing risks to biodiversity and increasing atmospheric carbon, according to a University of Georgia study published in Science, which combined global field data and predictive modeling to highlight these impacts.

NASA Releases New High-Quality, Near Real-Time Air Quality Data (Environmental News Network) - NASA's TEMPO instrument now provides high-resolution, near real-time air pollution data down to individual neighborhoods, enhancing the ability to monitor air quality and address climate issues, with this new data available through NASA's Atmospheric Science Data Center at Langley Research Center.


Want your voice to be heard? Use this link to easily contact elected officials—from your city council to the President. Your voice can make a real impact. While the IRNA may occasionally prompt you to contact specific officials about urgent issues, we keep this list handy for your convenience. Can't find who you're looking for? Just let us know; we're here to help connect you with the right people.



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