The Cost of Affordable Living
While the issue of providing for the homeless has grabbed headlines for years in Sarasota, those living in houses but just getting by aren’t often the subject of such debate. But some 20,000 households in Sarasota County would lose their current housing if faced with a $400 unexpected expense, according to Jon Thaxton, Gulf Coast Community Foundation senior vice president of investment. “Sarasota is supported and dependent upon a workforce that has to be recognized,” Thaxton said, “and we have to recognize that workforce needs housing.”
Thaxton spoke as part of a panel discussion and roundtable hosted by the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday. Gathered leaders said the stock of housing available to working-class people, particular near high employment areas like Downtown Sarasota, remains stunningly low.
Don Hadsell, Sarasota Housing and Community Development director, said the demand for affordable housing is growing faster than public agencies can meet it. He noted that the state has devoted less money to its housing trust fund than was available in 1990 even without accounting for inflation. “When awareness of the issue improves, it helps people learn and come up with solutions,” he said.
Robert Young, Government Issues chairman for the Sarasota Young Professionals Group, has conducted a survey of the organization’s members and found that a substantial percentage would like to live downtown but cannot afford to do so. “I work downtown, and traffic is incredibly bad because that is where everyone is driving,” he noted. He is in the process of doing an in-depth survey on the demand for housing in the Rosemary District, where a number of rental developments and affordable housing efforts are in planning or construction phase now. “Rosemary is one of those his places people want to go to now, but nobody lives yet,” he said.
Andy Dorr, chairman of the Economic and Community Development Division for the Chamber, said the greatest issue stopping the creation of more affordable units near the city core is the the cost of construction. When land downtown runs $1 million to $2 million an acre, that requires expensive vertical construction to turn a profit. He also said the region now has complex zoning regulations that are “overlaid with too much good intention.” “I am not against building quality, but when you layer on an additional 20 to 30 percent onto building just a sound, safe quality home, you need to look hard at the effect of those decisions,” he said.