Thursday night about 300 people packed into St Martha’s Church to hear the SURE (Sarasota United for Responsibility and Equity) public officials respond to recommendations for affordable housing in Sarasota. SURE is a Sarasota faith based organization with members from 21 Sarasota churches.
Notably absent were YPG members, developers and the real estate business people.
John McGruder, the chair of SURE’s Affordable Housing Committee presented the list of requests and commissioners gave a response. City Commissioner Servian answered most of the questions, County Commissioner Mercier spoke and City Mayor Atkins also spoke. Martina Guilfoil, the new director of the Community Housing Trust also briefly spoke.
The format of this "Public Action" is to make a request of public officials and ask them to respond. Audience questions are not allowed.
SURE has done much research on affordable housing solutions. The recommendations are not new as most were presented to City Commission candidates last year and McGruder has discussed these with all commissioners.
The requests and response were:
Request that in the next 60 days the City Commission send the County the necessary request to expand the Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) into Newtown such that the current TIF dollars can be spent in the expanded area.
Servian: last year the city pushed to get the CRA expanded into Newtown. So far the city has spent zero dollars on affordable housing. The consultant has said that downtown is not the best area to spend dollars on affordable housing. She shares Mayor Atkins commitment to a city wide plan.
Request that in the next 60 days the City Commission commit to spend not less than $25 million in future TIG dollars to advance the rental and homeownership housing needs of very low, low and moderate income households.
Servian: I will bring this to the commission table. She indicated that she did not know if $25 million was the right number.
Request that in the next 60 days the City Commission submit the necessary documentation to partner with the Community Housing Trust (CHT) established by the County Commission.
Servian: we have made a commitment to partner with the CHT - the city has taken a step back in this area and let the county take the lead in establishing the CHT. She endorses the CHT.
Request that in the next 90 days the City Commission provide sufficient funds to the CHT to hire a professional fund raiser who will seek significant contributions from major commercial, civic and private donors.
Servian: City will support the CHT Executive Director in financial requests.
Request that within the next 90 days the City Commission seek to schedule the first of what would become a regular (perhaps quarterly) meeting with representatives of the County Commission and the Community Housing Trust to review mutual goals of funding, perpetual affordability, regional cooperation and other interests as may be appropriate.
Servian: likes the idea of better communication - ie., City, County and CHT. Quarterly seemed to be a good time interval.
Request the City Commission continue to pursue options that could lead to the City of Sarasota paying all City workers a living wage.
Servian: Has thought about the idea of paying all City employees a living wage. Have asked City HR department to look at a definition for "living wage". In this year's budget discussions City will begin the process to move toward this.
Other comments from Servian: Only two of our department managers live in Sarasota, can’t afford to live here. We do not have adequate staff - no one with housing expertise. She will attend a "Housing Summit" next week in New Mexico. Other cities will share what has worked.
Mercier’s comments: he doesn’t know why there would be opposition to the TIF/CRA ideas.
Atkins' comments: the City is priced out of downtown. We did not buy land back when we should have bought it. The idea of Asset ( Commissioner Atkins likes the word "access" instead of "asset") Based Community Development - ABCD - relies on community members giving of their time and talent to address community issues. "What can I do for the community?" as opposed for "what can the City do for me?". He also spoke strongly about the need for a living wage - if the community businesses (banks, hospitals, etc) don’t step up, how can the City possible build enough houses for them?
Dale White's article in todays SHT says "A coalition of 21 churches is becoming impatient with the city because it has yet to expand a redevelopment district into Newtown". This has been apparent as SURE has been working on the housing issue since 2000. As indicated above, the City has spent zero dollars on affordable dollars.
[I will publish more of the SURE information in subsequent posts]