Castle in the Sky or Another Missed Opportunity?

The Report

BY SUSAN NILON SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY MAR 31, 2018

A long history of housing discrimination has been woven into the identity of what otherwise would be considered a wonderful community. The long struggle with wanting to do the right thing and keeping other people’s problems at a distance has become the bane of Sarasota.

Sure, we want to help. Help in the form of writing a check, attending a function and donating old clothes is perfectly fine, but please don’t ask us to open our community to just anybody. We got here by our own bootstraps and earned everything we have acquired. No one helped us. After all, the good book says, “God helps those who help themselves.” And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why most of the good people of Sarasota sleep peacefully tonight in a nice bed with a full belly.

What people seem to forget is, it’s one thing to ask someone to help themselves but another thing to put up roadblocks that stand in their way.

This Monday night, the Sarasota City Commission is holding a hearing about an affordable housing project called Arbor Village. Until now, builders were expecting this to be a welcomed project. Receiving a “thumbs up” from four of the five commissioners, and a 5-0 vote in favor of it from the planning commission, there was no concern for what was to come.

That is until someone decided to scare neighbors by passing out inflammatory flyers that said, “location of facility for 80 homeless individuals with chronic mental illesses [sic] who have histories of drug & alcohol abuse… coming to your neighborhood soon!” Yes, someone has created a boogey man. The irony is, without the slightest concern about the truth or the damage being caused by the discriminatory flyer, that person will be able to sleep soundly in a bed tonight.

This project is not a homeless shelter. Arbor Village is a joint project between Blue Sky, a Tampa-based affordable housing specialist, and Community and Supported Living, a Sarasota nonprofit company. CASL has a successful track record of creating housing for residents with disabilities. They manage 127 houses, duplexes, triplexes, quadruplexes and condos in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte, Alachua, Lee and Collier counties. Recently earning a unanimous approval from the city planning commission, Arbor Village is 3.5 acres, located near Fruitville and Tuttle avenues. Consisting of two buildings, the plan is for 13,500 square feet of office space, 80 one- and two-bedroom residential units starting at $600. Of that, 40 of the units will accommodate the working class, 40 units are set aside for the homeless (24 will accommodate the disabled, 16 will accommodate the chronically homeless) and the remaining space will be for office rentals. CASL believes so much in this project, they are locating their headquarters on this property.

For years, people fought hard against any efforts to build a homeless shelter in the city of Sarasota. They argued for an alternative project called “Housing First,” which provides permanent, affordable housing for individuals and families experiencing or about to experience homelessness. With housing spread throughout the city, there is no single concentration of homeless individuals that any one neighborhood has to bare. But more important, the availability of affordable permanent housing for those who are either on the street or one paycheck away from homelessness are how people can actually help themselves.

Blue Sky and CASL have not been the first to say they will build affordable housing in the City of Sarasota. Harvey Vengroff fought in vain for a long time to provide low-income housing in the city, until the hurdles were too overwhelming for his project to bare. Now we have another opportunity for a private company to provide housing for people making $12-13 per hour (or can’t work at all due to illness or disability). Yet, with one little flyer of false information, all of this could be gone.

So, what is it Sarasota? Have you been jerking our chain all of these years? It’s time to stop this nonsense and start supporting people who want to make this happen. Be the voice of reason. Be the voice of the people who can’t speak for themselves. Come to the Sarasota City Hall Commission Chambers on April 2 at 6 pm.

Susan Nilon of The Nilon Report. Contact Nilon at susan.nilon@gmail.com.

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