If the city of Sarasota really wants to fast-track affordable housing, it should not tie its hopes to the density-bonus proposal aired -- and unanimously panned -- by the planning board this week.
That proposal, which would incentivize work-force housing by raising density limits in and around the downtown, has clearly failed to achieve consensus among the neighborhoods it would affect. The chief reason for that failure, we believe, is that the plan would not yield anywhere near enough affordable housing to warrant the big inducements it would provide to high-end condo developers. (Depending on the area, the plan would double or quadruple the number of those dwellings allowed.)
Good Advice from the editors of the SHT.
The Coalition of City Neighborhoods board has been having e-mail discussions about this issue. What would we suggest that our city consider? Who else might be able to contribute to the discussion?
Earlier in the month CCNA and the Downtown Partnership hosted a forum to discuss the merits of the current density bonus proposal. While the DPA favors some kind of downtown density bonus and would suggest going forward with the current proposal, the neighborhood people believe there may be unintended consequences and do not want to rush forward with this proposal. Instead, take a slower path so everyone understands the proposal and its consequences.
Everyone agrees we need to do something.
The editorial continues:
Alternatives exist, and we urge the commission to fast-track their consideration. Possibilities include: expanded rent subsidies; tax relief for landlords who provide decent work-force housing; repair grants to salvage deteriorating homes; and public purchase of for-sale units, which could then go to the Community Housing Trust.
Another option is to include significant affordable housing as part of the Palm Ave parking lot RFP (along with some parking and street level retail). The YPG leaders favor this as an option. Save Our Sarasota has suggested this option in the past - along with the State St lot that was given to the Pineapple Square developers.
Further discussion has centered around Harvey Vengroff's proposal for some 1600 affordable rental units on land he owns on Fruitville near downtown. While the devil may be in the details, this option needs to be looked into. Since the Park East neighborhood (where this is located) seems to be OK with the proposal, working with Vengroff to flesh out the details and resolve issues sooner rather than later, appears to be another option.
A broad brush approach utilizing the comprehensive plan is not the way to accomplish affordable housing goals. Regardless of what conventional thinking would say, added density downtown is NOT the answer to our problems. We have had several developers utilize the added density provision of the DROD, yet they have not built one unit of housing that is affordable or attainable by the average Sarasota working resident.
Some added density in some parts of the urban area are likely options to drive housing prices down. The caution is that the city Sarasota serves a wide metropolitan area, providing housing, jobs and education. We also know that areas near Sarasota (ie., Bradenton) have similar issues with housing. Adding density will create higher infrastructure demand and if it does reduce housing prices many people will take advantage of the "deal". Are we ready for this?