The Sarasota Tiger Bay Club Topic: "We are being priced out of home ownership and rental housing!"
Moderator: Marge Baldwin
Panel: Jody Hudgins, Banker and County Planning Commissioner
Dr. John McGruder, Jr., S.U.R.E. (Sarasota United for Responsibility and Equity)
Jud Boedecker, Builder/Attorney-Southwest Florida Homes
Mike Jacobson, Executive Director, Habitat for Humanity.
Jud wished there would be a twelve mo. moratorium on new land use regulations. He thinks the reason for not building affordable housing is lack of land. He's seen the imbalance in pricing happen over the last four years. This should be our number one community priority. Tough decisions will have to be made. Compromises on the environment will have to be made.
Mike asked "what does affordable mean?" Without a definition all agree on nothing will get done. With more density, builders could build smaller, lower priced units.
Jody said the City has done a great job. Compare it to downtown Bradenton or downtown Ft. Myers. To get density into the county you have to make sure infrastructure is there, and that growth is compatible with the neighborhood. The cost of land is being driven up.
Jud said density is a bad word in this community but it can prevent sprawl and provide workforce housing.
Jody suggested that density by itself is not the panacea for affordable housing.
Jud thinks the county has the tool box to solve this problem. He is proudly a for-profit builder of single homes. Developers need to be offered mild incentives like rezoning for higher density, give overlay districts for workforce housing and affordable housing. We (the developer) would make sure infrastructure is in place.
John put on the table that there's another important issue besides land (and density) and that's providing living wages to workers.
Questioner reminded all that this community depends on service people. They can't be put out east. Some don't have transportation. Where are the plans for service people?
Jud noted that in Jacksonville, land is given to builders like Habitat for Humanity. The city gives land for $1 (a year?)
Mike is aware of Jacksonville's policies and thinks that there is the political will, the problem is clear to them (unlike here, I presume). We are talking about folks who live in the city making less than $24,000. Workforce housing isn't sexy. The sucking noise you are hearing are the people leaving. Why don't you put together a panel of Habitat owners. Meet the working poor, single moms.
John says that Habitat is no longer the model to follow. Habitat homes can be flipped. We want perpetual affordability. Even in the Housing Trust fund which is great, only 30% of it goes to those making 60% of the median income or less. Most of the money goes to the high end. Keep in mind that Sarasota is way below average for acceptance of diversity. The poor need to live in town.
Marge read from a 2003 City resolution which requested more affordability. It was a plea then. Even more urgent now.
Jody said in 1999, he, Joe Barbetta and another sat on a blue ribbon panel re: affordable housing. The County has dedicated staff and will. The Community Housing Trust of Sarasota County is considering workforce overlay district. It's been in existence for two months and is already a model. Pappas is the chair. Money for the project coming from selling lots in North Port. There's a plan to build 3,000 homes in 10 years.
Marge replied, but, we need them now. That isn't nearly enough. Jody responded that new land requirements require affordable housing must be included.
Marge wanted to know where City TIF money will go. Jud replied that City has been asked to participate.
Mike acknowledged (to John) that Habitat has to make changes. They've built 250,000 homes across the country. Now they are looking for a blending of paradigms. Just building a house for a family and handing them the keys isn't enough.
Marge wanted to know when someone applies, do you screen that person?
Mike said families have to show the ability to pay for their home. We don't see this as a handout but rather a hand up. Habitat has built 150 houses in Sarasota in the past 20 yrs and only a few have changed hands.
John is glad that the city and county are aware finally that affordable housing is missing and that that's a problem. TIF is a real possibility for providing funds. CRAAB is made up of developers. Look where TIF money has gone downtown - to high end projects like Whole Foods and the Herald Tribune. $20 million already spent on development downtown. If Newtown becomes a TIF CRA, please don't spend it in Newtown as it has been spent downtown.
Jody noted that 90% of Sarasota households make less than $80,0000.
Jud challenged - let's create it rather than preserve it. Home ownership gets folks out of lower class with their ability to build equity. A housing trust will take that away from them. Questions: Let's hear from the no growth people. Sounds like affordable housing has to come from the government (not his preference).
Mike jumped in - give 2 to 4 acres, we'd bring in volunteers and show you what's possible. Homes would be put up you'd be proud of to dispel the nimby reaction. Jody says that the county owns most of the land in Sarasota County. Sensitive lands are out - not developable anyway. It's a goal in the comp plan to preserve these lands.
Jud suggested the room is filled with well intentioned people who want to keep the well being of the community intact.
John asked "what can we do?" I'm looking for a few heroes. Let's get a fund together of $1 million dollars for affordable housing to seed the endeavor.
Questioner responded that service people can't live here and businesses needing service people cannot stay. She knows of several businesses that have closed and moved north. People who make $7 to $10 an hr can't afford to live here and Habitat can't cover the thousands in need.
John reminded everyone that we need more rental units and that the landlords need help. (Always we are discussing single home ownership when that doesn't fit for a lot of people, singles, retired, single mothers, etc.
Mike offered that Habitat is branching out into building duplexes, triplexes and rental apartment buildings. This is the next generation. Next questioner urged everyone to contact the legislature and tell them to keep the fund created ten years ago - the Housing Trust Fund which gets money from doc stamp tax. Money is given for rental and mortgage assistance. Help keep the Sadowski Trust Fund.
Another questioner likes the free market. He pays his maid $20 an hour. He says she bought a home in Sarasota County for $200,000. (You do the math.)
Marge used the old saw but if wages go up, then the price of products and services go up. Hasn't killed off popular places, someone quipped.
Jud wanted to know what John considered a living wage. Would it be $15 to $20.
John countered that yes, that would be a start. He also noted that greed is alive and well. Economics will not solve this problem. We have no controls on flipping. Speculators are driving up prices.
Jud acknowledged that a living wage won't buy a person a home here.
Another questioner wanted to know where will Sarasota be in ten years? Still discussing this problem? Everything he has heard so far are only band aid solutions.
Someone mentioned that those of us who have been here a while and own homes have seen our values goes three fold, all fine and good, but what about everyone else!
John thinks funding must come from many sources. It's a moral issue above all else to his mind. It will take the whole community to do something. Action is absolutely missing.
Jody thinks inclusionary funding is the key. He thinks the community housing trust can include rentals.
Jud sees this as a community-wide responsibility.
Mike wants a long term solution, getting all the stakeholders together.
Let's put a stake in the ground and start the momentum urged Mike.
Marge summed up: I think everyone is concerned. Let's start now. There has to be money out there. The City makes millions and contributes not a nickel to affordable housing.
John as a postscript recommended the city and county work with Manatee and Charlotte in a broad way to deal with affordable housing.
Submitted by Jude Levy.