Monday, November 21, 2016

Planner responds to Sarasota Survey on Affordable Housing

A recent Sarasota County survey on affordable housing recently circulated. Daniel Herridges, a member of the Citizens for Sarasota County group on Facebook, posted his responses. Herridges is doing graduate work in Urban and Regional Planning.

The County survey is open to all citizens through Dec. 12. All residents are urged to take the Affordability Survey here.


Sarasota County Affordable Housing Survey Responses


1. Do you believe it is important for housing to be affordable for people who work in our community? Why or why not?

It is extremely important. Sarasota's quality of life depends on broadly shared prosperity. Our region's economy is heavily dependent on service-industry jobs. If enough affordable, decent housing is not available for those who work those jobs, we can expect to see worse traffic and environmental impacts as workers commute from far from their jobs; higher cost of living combined with slower economic growth; increased health problems as more people live in housing that is in poor condition; increased homelessness (already a pressing quality-of-life issue in downtown Sarasota and elsewhere); and potential negative effects on schools, crime rates, and neighborhood stability resulting from high socioeconomic inequality.

2. What type of workers is it important to have housing for? ( i.e. teachers, nurses, construction, manufacturing, government/private sector, etc.)

All types of workers need reasonable, healthy, safe housing, whatever their occupation or income level. I see the most dire need in Sarasota County being among low-wage service-industry workers, however—retail salespeople, servers, bartenders, customer service / receptionists, etc. I am dismayed that nearly all of the discourse around affordable housing from the County centers around "workforce housing" for moderate-income teachers, police, firefighters, etc.—while these groups do need housing as well, this focus is limiting. The most dire housing need is among residents with low and very low incomes (under 80% of AMI). I understand the political palatability of "workforce" versus "affordable" or "low-income" housing, but I hope County officials can also show the political courage to pay due attention to their neediest citizens. 

Affordable Housing
3. What makes it difficult for these workers to find affordable housing?

Wages in Sarasota County, as in all of Florida, are below average for the United States. The region has a disproportionate concentration of low-wage jobs in the service industries, and a relative dearth of scientific and technical jobs. This means there is structurally high demand for affordable housing. At the same time, with high migration driven by retiring baby-boomers, there is steady demand from outside the region for larger and more expensive homes, thus our home builders see little incentive to build "starter homes" or apartments when they have a profitable business model in higher-end, single-family subdivisions. Finally, the region's land-use policies stifle the organic growth of an affordable housing stock by largely disallowing "missing middle" housing types (buildings with 2-20 units), disallowing multifamily housing entirely in many locations, disallowing ADUs almost everywhere, and making it difficult to economically build small "starter" homes on small lots due to lot size and setback requirements. Sprawling, low-density suburban growth and a lack of infill development means that transportation costs eat up a high share of many households' budgets. Finally, the large-scale subdivision growth model (as opposed to incremental infill) means that whole neighborhoods are built out at the same time and age at the same rate; thus, almost nowhere in Sarasota County is there a diversity of housing age, size, condition, and thus affordability within one neighborhood like you find in many older U.S. cities. This makes it hard for young professionals to establish themselves here and for older people to downsize and age in place. 

4. What creative ideas do you have to removing the barriers to finding affordable housing?

Dedicate county-owned properties acquired through tax forfeiture to permanently-affordable housing. Seek to create a permanent, replenishable fund at the county level for gap financing to help nonprofit developers make affordable projects pencil out (meeting the “gap” between federal / state subsidies, the developer’s own financing sources, and total development costs). Reform land-use policy to broadly allow small, inherently affordable housing types like ADUs. Couple mandatory inclusionary zoning with density bonuses / exemption from things like setback requirements to incentivize the building of smaller housing units. Identify infill opportunities for larger multifamily projects on key transportation corridors (such as aging shopping centers in places like Clark Road and Tamiami Trail), zone these sites in advance for high-density mixed-use to ease the regulatory process, and work with land owners and developers if and when redevelopment occurs to ensure that plans have a housing component. New supply overall will help restrain prices in the region's housing market, but priority should be on encouraging rental housing, smaller units whether rental or ownership, and infill rather than greenfield development. "Affordable" housing in remote areas of North Port or east of I-75 is NOT affordable once transportation costs are factored into a household's budget! Do not let developers use "affordable housing" as a pretext for accelerated greenfield sprawl or exemption from the letter or spirit of 2050 requirements. 

5. What are the five most important reasons having housing affordable to these workers positively impacts the community?

Less inequality is associated with stronger economic growth. Workforce housing helps area employers attract workers and diversify the regional economy. Diversity of housing types and price points will help Sarasota weather boom-and-bust cycles better. Affordable housing near jobs restrains sprawl, resulting in less traffic and cleaner air. It's the right thing to do. Everyone should have access to adequate, safe housing.

6. Are there any particular areas or locations that make more sense than others to encourage or allow additional housing? (i.e. address, parcel, new developments, in existing developments, west of I-75, etc.) 

Along existing major transit corridors (coupled with increased transit investment to meet mobility needs that come with greater population). In existing neighborhoods in the form of ADUs. In older retail centers ripe for redevelopment—many of these have huge parking lots that are sparsely used even at peak hours and could be partially redeveloped as housing. Near major job concentrations (downtowns, hospitals, on the mainland near barrier islands). West of 75 almost exclusively! (Only exception: Lakewood Ranch) We have so much room for infill that it is environmentally and fiscally irresponsible to allow continued sprawl into greenfield areas, whether in the name of affordable housing or not.

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