Making Affordable Housing a Real Priority Through Policy Examination

Guest Correspondence

Once again, affordable housing has made the priority list of the Sarasota County Commission for 2020.  It is interesting to see it on there for another year. It is also interesting to see the lack of connection that is made from that policy to the other initiatives and policy setting the Commission acts on. 

The same week that the Commission made affordable housing a priority, the commission decided to consider a mental health taxing district to increase taxes and was told about a stormwater utility rate study- have you ever seen a government rate study that didn’t call for an increase?

Not a breath was mentioned about the effects of these taxes and fees on affordable housing.

If the commission is serious about affordable housing, it would take an introspective look at the policies it sets and its effect on housing. And not just do this once, do it every single time a policy is passed.

You see, while we like to brag that we have the second lowest millage rate in the state, the shell game of fees and separate line item costs actually reveal something different when you put them together.  Florida TaxWatch has a very handy tool on their website to do some comparisons and rankings in the state for local taxes.

When you plug Sarasota County into the database, it shows that Sarasota County is actually 24th in the state for per capita county government property taxes out of 67 counties. That’s right, 64% of the counties in this state have a better per capita county government tax rate than Sarasota County. 

How much money do we take in overall in terms of county revenue?  We rank 9th in the state for that per capita. How about how much we spend as a county?  We rank 8th in the state per capita for spending.

All of this points to the fact that we take in a lot of money and we spend a lot, and our residents and businesses shoulder that.  

But the people who feel it the most are our ALICE families. According to the 2018 ALICE Report put out by the United Way of Florida, ALICE is defined as “households that earn more than the Federal Poverty Level, but less than the basic cost of living for the county.”  In 2016, that was 28% of households in Sarasota County with another 9% in poverty.  A whopping 37% total can’t afford to live here.

So how much is the government eating up of a household income through taxes?  The ALICE report says 8% per month for a family of four.  For a single person household, it is a staggering 12.8% per month.  That $439 per month could easily get a family of four from unaffordable to affordability in terms of housing.

Bottom line is that government is pretending it wants housing affordability and wants everyone else to chip in to solve it.  When it comes to examining its own behavior into contributing to this problem and worsening it, it is ignored.

If affordable housing is a top priority for the county, they have an opportunity to prove it by identifying the increased costs to households as a result of their decisions and acknowledging them with each policy decision.  Anything else makes this just a feel good thing to have on a priority list.

 Christine Robinson is executive director of The Argus Foundation.

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