Being home for the holidays is a gift that I hope many of you had this last week along with time with those you hold closest to your heart. It sounds simple, but this gift of unhurried, quality time with friends and family in a safe place has become more rare and more difficult to experience for many adults and families across our region who are struggling to afford the very roof over their heads.
When the most basic need for shelter is slipping out of reach, we are asking our neighbors to compromise their dignity, and turn away from a life of possibility.
The very opportunity to pursue a future where one lives, and do so with peace of mind, should belong to all of us who call this special place home.
Affordable housing is a critical, community-wide challenge that can cast the safety nets of shelter and stability wider than they’ve ever been before.
For 21 years, our community has responded time-and-again to help neighbors in crisis through Season of Sharing, which gives us the networks and resources to take immediate action on rental and mortgage assistance (as well as utilities, childcare, and emergency transportation needs). Since its inception, Season of Sharing has helped nearly 40,000 households regain stability and unwrap the gift of hope thanks to our generous community.
Unfortunately, the calls for help are only growing. Season of Sharing meets a critical need and always will, but our community has changed since its early years, and so our response is evolving, too.
In 2021, we were honored to add momentum to this most pressing need. One year ago, ground was broken in downtown Sarasota for Lofts on Lemon, a 128-unit affordable and workforce housing development led by the Sarasota Housing Authority in downtown Sarasota’s Rosemary District. A $2 million capstone investment from the Community Foundation of Sarasota County complemented other contributions to realize this soon-to-be home for asset-limited families, teachers, healthcare workers, and first responders. I encourage you to drive along Lemon Avenue and see the vast progress already made.
PHOTO: LOFTS ON LEMON GROUNDBREAKING. IMAGE COURTESY CITY OF SARASOTA.
Similar, collective efforts are being strengthened across Sarasota County. To close out last year, our Community Foundation along with a generous donor matched others with a $250,000 grant to help Family Promise of South Sarasota County secure critical funds for its Pathways Home Program, which will connect families to financial and educational resources so they can confidently move towards self-sufficiency. We were also able to provide gap funding assistance to Harvest House’s Home Again program, which will allow families in longer-term housing to live in a secure place while they are completing adult education degrees and certifications.
These are just a few examples of how our community is working to go beyond the emergency and address some underlying daily instabilities that perpetuate our housing crisis. Where I hope our community is going, though, is to develop equitable, accessible, and enduring solutions that go far beyond any one crisis or issue.
For nearly 10 years, we've intentionally adopted a two-generation (2Gen) approach to help families build careers and grow professionally, yet rising housing costs have presented barrier after barrier along their journey. Earlier last month, three mothers we have gotten to know over the last decade voiced their concerns at a Sarasota County Commission meeting, with support from a coalition of more than 20 community partners. These mothers courageously recounted tales of homelessness, of struggling to meet their rent that has doubled in cost, and of ultimately having to move out of the county, which has jeopardized their jobs, relationships, and livelihoods.
Listening to these women speak, I am hopeful that their words will ignite actions that reveal us as the generous community I know us to be. I’ve seen how people who have lived here for a long time or who are newcomers become part of Season of Sharing, make investments in families, and know that generosity put forth today will be realized in the lives of those who follow.
Shelter may be described as a roof over our head, but it’s much more than that. It’s a safe place to live, grow ourselves and our families, and thrive, one that is fundamental to our own collective health and wellbeing, as well as that of our community’s. And in this moment, shelter is not a universal gift.
We can change this, together.
Since there are so many possibilities yet to be realized through affordable housing, I invite you to personally share your own thoughts with me. Every idea and solution matters in casting wide the safety nets of shelter, security, and stability.