On Saturday, Aug 5, the Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations’ (CCNA) monthly meeting focused on Affordable Housing. Invited guests, including Martina Guilfoil (Community Housing Trust), Don Hadsell (Sarasota Housing and Community Development) and Susan Scott (Sarasota County Deputy Director), spoke on what they thought neighborhoods could do to help with affordable housing.
CCNA has been looking at the issue of how to take positive action so that affordable housing in our community becomes a reality. CCNA understands that there has been much talk over the last couple years concerning the rapid rise in home prices, real estate taxes, home insurance, and rental rates; this has been accompanied by many discussions about what we should do. Little has actually been done.
Thus the CCNA attempt to find specific things that neighborhoods can do, in their own "backyards", to help achieve more affordable housing.
SOS believes that this is a good approach: focus on what can be done now and finding ways to make it happen and do this with a grass roots, bottom up approach.
Much needs to happen to make a dent in affordable housing. City and county staff should provide specific information about the numbers and location of current affordable housing (rental as well as ownership). This needs to be known for an area wide basis - many people that live in Bradenton (and other more affordable areas away from the City of Sarasota) work in Sarasota, which will continue as these areas have generally lower home prices and rental rates. This should lead to good policy decision making concerning what the need for affordable housing is: how many, what price, where located (relative to jobs and transportation). Strategies to create affordable housing in the best places could then be developed with community discussion.
In the mean time, some of the suggestions from neighborhood leaders included:
- Actively look at allowing "granny flats" in neighborhoods and parts of the city that feel comfortable with them. It is likely that some issues would have to be addressed as part of this approach. Issues might include questions of absentee landlord making a duplex of the house and flat, off street parking requirements, beefed up code enforcement, etc.
- Work with developers to allow more density in specific areas where affordable housing could be appropriate. Places near public transportation and accommodating mixed use could be requirements. Density without height may be more appropriate than tall buildings.
- Neighborhoods need to be active in telling state representatives that release of the Sadowski Funds for affordable housing is needed now. This is the tax on house sales - "document stamp" - that was intended for affordable housing. So far the Florida legislature has been reluctant to release funds for affordable housing and has even "raided" the fund for other uses. Pressure on state lawmakers is needed for release of these funds.
- It was suggested that neighborhoods pressure the county to put significant fund dollars from the sale of the North Port lots into the CHT. It seems that county commissioners are sitting on the funds.
- The Sarasota CRA should be immediately expanded so TIF dollars can be used for affordable housing in north Sarasota. Mayor Atkins was at the CCNA meeting and indicated that so far zero dollars have been spent from TIF for affordable housing even though this was a significant reason for creating the CRA.
- TIF dollars could be used to purchase the apartment building on Ringling that is for sale. This could be an affordable rental site in downtown.
- CCNA has indicated support of the CHT effort to put affordable housing on Laurel St in the Alta Vista neighborhood.
- Consider support of the newly announced Habitat for Humanity projects (Cohen Way proposal, "Puppy Park" east of the dog track, and a new proposal on Central Ave).
- Support for Newtown, Amaryllis Park and Janie Poe for the redevelopment of the public housing land in a manner that allows residents to continue to live in this community.
- The city budgeting efforts to achieve a "living wage" for all employees was applauded. Can this be extended to other employers in the city and county? Chicago's recent action regarding "big box" stores was cited as an example.
- Participation in a community meeting of all affected people and organizations to be convened by the CHT.
- Use grass roots efforts to actively put pressure on Sarasota City and County governments to put realistic affordable housing plans in place as opposed to developer welfare type efforts like the current 4X density bonus for downtown areas.
Save Our Sarasota has long felt that citizen involvement and action is the key to getting what the community desires. The CCNA efforts are exactly what is needed to find affordable housing solutions. Building community trust through community involvement is required. Finding top driven, developer proposed solutions are not likely to be in the best interests of the citizens.