SARASOTA The Sarasota Chamber and the area's largest philanthropic organizations came together with members of the business community Wednesday to present ideas on ways to solve a growing problem on the Suncoast the lack of affordable housing.
"There have been so many conversations over the years about affordable housing," said Kirsten Russell, Vice President of Community Impact for the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.
Russell said businesses have a big stake in creating solutions. "It's important to all of us. No matter what we do ... We have to have employees, we have to have workforce housing, we need affordable places for people to live," she said. "Without people living here, we don't have a vibrant community."
Each group made a short presentation to about 250 people in the auditorium at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
"Bringing everyone together to collaboratively work toward a solution, there are tons of possibilities," Russell said.
Heather Kasten, CEO of the Sarasota Chamber, showed results of two recent surveys. In one poll, 73% of local businesses said the lack of affordable housing has affected their ability to recruit and retain workers.
The chamber also polled people who have applied for jobs in the area. The survey found 1,500 workers had turned down job offers here because of the cost of housing.
And of young professionals already working here, more than half have thought about leaving the area because of the high cost of housing.
According to the Florida Housing Coalition, affordable housing is defined as housing that costs no more than 30% of a household's gross income.
For a single person making $35,000 a year, that would mean if they spend more than $10,500 a year that's $875 a month on housing costs, they are considered "cost-burdened."
Over 2.4 million low-income Florida households are in this category, the Coalition says, making it nearly impossible to save for retirement or emergencies and difficult to afford other basic necessities like food and childcare.
The Coalition offers other sobering statistics:
Though Florida has seen a significant decrease in homelessness over the past 10 years, there are still over 25,000 individuals and families experiencing literal homelessness on any given night throughout the state and over 78,277 students without a permanent place to live. Florida has 23 affordable and available rental units for every 100 extremely low-income renters (those with incomes at or below 30% of the area median). No community in Florida provides enough housing to support this group which is primarily made up of low-income workers, retirees, and people with disabilities. Over 83,687 units are at risk of being permanently lost from the privately owned affordable housing stock by 2043.
Jon Thaxon, Senior Vice President of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, presented a laundry list of things developers and county officials could do to spur the growth of affordable housing, including:
- Expediting the permitting process, to speed construction;
- Adjusting impact fees;
- Redevelopment of commercial properties and speeding up the approval process to accomplish it.
Matt Sauer of the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation suggested adopting what's called inclusionary zoning, a policy that requires a share of new housing development to be affordable to low- to moderate- income households.
He also suggested developers be allowed to increase the density of homes in residential areas.
He said the county should also create a community land trust, where the homeowner would own a house, but the trust would own the land it sits on. Sauer cited a similar successful program in Vermont, that kept costs to the homeowner down.
Mark Vengroff, managing partner of One Stop Housing, a development company specializing in affordable multifamily rental properties, told the group construction costs and interest rates for borrowing are the main obstacle to building less expensive housing.
He said insurance costs have skyrocketed; going up between 50% and 100% in the past three years.
This was the second local forum on affordable housing this week. Sarasota County Commissioner Mark Smith, who spoke Monday at a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters, says the county has been working with nonprofits to increase the amount of affordable housing on the Suncoast.
Smith noted it's common practice for businesses, such as tradespeople, to tack on additional fees when they have to drive longer distances into high-income areas, calling it the "island rate."
Smith says it makes financial sense for companies' employees to live closer to where they'll work.
"It is in their financial interest to have the workforce next door," he said.
He said citizens can help. "Pay attention to who's running for office."
Wednesday's event was sponsored by the Sarasota Chamber, the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation, CASL, Inc., the Community Foundation of Sarasota County and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation.