Friday, July 14, 2006

Affordable Housing Editorial

[Pelican Press Editorial concerning affordable housing.]

Lack of affordable housing has reached critical level

County and city need to take serious note of activist’s ideas

As reported last week in the Pelican Press, area rents are continuing to escalate while worker housing is evaporating. Apparently, providing affordable housing wasn’t a criteria for Sarasota’s recent designation as an “All-America County.”

And despite its reputation as a haven for owner-occupied single-family homes, until recently 40 percent of the housing in the City of Sarasota was rental property.

But no longer.

Escalating real estate prices and huge increases on non-homestead property taxes have combined to pressure landlords to either sell or increase rents substantially to cover costs. Many rentals east of Tamiami Trail, for example, have seen tax increases of more than 100 percent over the past three years.

According to area landlord Tully Giacomazzi, “... The cost of running rentals is increasing faster than the renters’ incomes.” And to make matters worse, landlords are saying that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) isn’t keeping up with the market rate, further reducing housing opportunities for those on the lower side of the socio-economic scale.

Activist and city renter Jude Levy helped organize the Tenant Landlord Coalition, the goal of which is to get landlords and tenants to work together to solve common problems.

Levy says that within the past month, she’s seen the elimination of 60 of 220 rental units in the Laurel Park area alone.

Huge increases in non-homestead property taxes and insurance rates, which are far more costly for rentals than owner-occupied dwellings, and pressure to sell have conspired to cause the loss of thousands of rental units to condominiums, Levy says.

Levy joined forces with the Landlords Association and composed a white paper urging city action to slow or halt the disappearance of rentals for the working class.

The white paper urges the city and county to adopt tax relief for rental properties and file a grievance with the governor over the current two-tiered rate system on property insurance. It also asks the city and county to put together a relief package for tenants and landlords with reasonable rents ($600-$900) by canceling or reducing their water, sewer and garbage-pickup fees.

If you spend any time at all in Sarasota, you’ll hear people referring to it as “paradise.” And while we all love the spectacular sunsets, balmy sea breezes and snow-white sands of area beaches, for many whose lives are far from an endless vacation, paradise is lost.

A truly forward-thinking community should not only embrace diversity, but welcome it. This means being able to support the wealthy and those who toil to support their luxurious lifestyle.

[The following post is the "white Paper" the editorial discusses.]

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