Wishing for Attainable Housing

Under The Hood

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY DEC 23, 2017

A holiday wish list for Southwest Florida surely deserves on the very top a place to stay for those of all income levels. But it’s going to take more than magical thinking and a workshop of elves.

The subject drove a meeting I recently convened with Kevin Cooper and Jacki Dezelski, the respective presidents of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and Manatee County Chamber of Commerce. You can read the entire conversation in the January issue of SRQ Magazine. I can tell you the lack of attainable housing vexes both business leaders. “Businesses are ready to hire,” Cooper says, “and the workforce that would otherwise want to fill those jobs can't find an affordable place to live.”

But one thing clear covering this issue for years, neither the free market nor public sector can solve this issue alone. The reason is that the strength of either force lies in the polar opposites of the market, and the great void in today’s market lays in the vacuous middle. Government leaders may bicker and argue about shelter size and location, but there’s plenty being done to address the needs of the Gulf Coast’s poorest families, and progress, while slow-coming, has taken place in addressing the needs of the chronically homeless as well. But government’s never been great at helping out the middle class (see the recent tax vote in Washington for an example). It’s easiest to build from the bottom of the economy or to inject some fluidity into the top of the market.

The private sector, meanwhile, feels the incentive of profits, and when it comes to selling real estate in paradise, that means maximizing every acre. In our amenity-rich downtowns, you can find luxury condominium buildings rising from the ground now. And yes, we have some nice apartments coming online, but its always easier to get developers investing in land they can quickly sell at a markup than it is convincing them to become long-term landlords catering to entry-level workers within any field. And while you would hope the mere presence of a growing number of young professionals would force a greater market share of reasonably priced accommodations to appear, there always seems to be a new generation of freshly retired folks from out-of-state willing to expend a career’s worth of wealth for their turn in a dream home.

What can turn the tide? Dezelski holds hope in the action of Manatee County leaders to create building incentives for mixed-use development on US 41 between Bradenton and the Sarasota-Manatee county line. Of course, that again requires the private sector to play along with the public. “I'm going to be very interested,” Dezelski says, “to see if that attracts the type of attention from developers to put in some sort of a catalytic project that shows other would-be investors or other would-be developers that, hey, this type of an incentive works and creates the right environment for us to bring on attainable housing.”

I’ll be interested as well, and so will every employer who wants to be near the center of economic action on the Gulf Coast but has to rely on employee bases who live 30 miles from the most viable city cores. Even this, though, won’t bring a huge number of people into an area where they play, work and, most elusively, live in a downtown. This puts people outside walking distance, and there’s still not a popular public transit option. But it’s a first step, and it would be great if it leads somewhere good down the line.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor for SRQ Media Group.

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