Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Perspective on Attainable Housing

To the City Commissioners:

My name is Jude Levy. I am a renter and I am a member of the tenant landlord coalition.

I do not think that the current density bonus plan is designed for affordable housing. I think it is designed for the developers. As the consultant said many times, it is about making the developer “whole.”

I would like to see this affordable housing conversation broadened to include the 50% of the City’s households who make less than $55,000 annually and to include the discussion of rentals for those households. In the main, this group cannot afford to buy in the current market. Though GoodHomes, Habitat and some other groups are providing home ownership for low and moderate income families, the numbers are small. There are currently 61,000 rentals in the Sarasota-Bradenton area. A few years ago over 40% of the living units in the city were rentals.

Who are low income renters? A wide range of folks – young and old, single and married, as well as families. They include newcomers deciding where to settle, students from New College and the Ringling School of Art, service workers, elders on fixed incomes as well as City staff and hospital employees – for so many this is the only housing option if they are to live here and contribute to this community.

In last week’s Herald Tribune business section, it was announced that a collection firm would be locating here. The jobs they will offer will be in the $25K to $30K range. Approximately 20% of our households in Sarasota make $30,000 or less. They are considered by the Community Housing definitions (HUD) as extremely low and very low income groups. It is for these two groups that housing is called “affordable.” Even income from $28K to $44,700 is considered low income.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition Report, to rent a 1 bedroom apartment in Sarasota one must make $27,400 and to afford a 2 bedroom, one would need to make almost $33,000. Or in other terms, one must make $13.21 an hour (working 40 hrs a week) to live in a one bedroom.

Will these new collection agency employees find an apartment in their affordable range, i.e. spending 30% of their income on housing?

Households making from 0 to $28,000 need apartments available in the $430 to $722 range.

I looked at this past Sunday’s classifieds in the Herald-Tribune. I only saw one apt for $550 and none for less than that. I counted all the apartments, condos, houses, rooms, duplexes available for rent in the $550 to $900 range. I only found 43 listings. For folks making $40, $50, $60K who can spend $1,000 to $2,000 in monthly rents, I stopped counting at 300 rental offerings.

I hope you will give some of your focus and incentives to the needs of low income renters and the landlords who provide real affordable housing for residents who live here year around.

(After thought: Consider how the developments of high end condos downtown have been given free land, TIF funds, overlay districts, zoning breaks so that now we have a seven year glut of luxury units downtown. This has been a boon to speculators and the wealthy buying second, third and fourth residences.)

I ask this of you in the service of keeping Sarasota diverse, vibrant and alive.

Thank you.

Sources: Herald Tribune, Community Housing in Sarasota County brochure dated November 2005, “Out of Reach” the December 2005 report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition on Florida.

[Submitted e-mail from Jude Levy]

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