Congratulations to Sarasota for Facing Workforce Housing

Guest Correspondence

Image courtesy Pixabay, by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi.

The Argus Foundation began to sound the affordable and workforce housing alarm eight years ago as our area was emerging from the Great Recession. We have subsequently written dozens of columns on the topic over the years as the City of Sarasota, in particular, pretended that there was no workforce housing problem.

In 2020, we saw a sea change in the election of City Commissioners, with commissioners from diverse backgrounds, who hired administration also with diverse backgrounds. 

The perspectives of these commissioners were important because they understood, and more importantly, believed the real-life struggle of workers including young professionals, first responders, teachers and our service staff. This new commission related deeply to the workforce and understood that these people were working and could not show up to plead their cases at public meetings.

With City Manager Marlon Brown hired, the City Commission embarked on a long and tough process of comprehensive plan changes and two phases of zoning code changes to deal directly with this problem. This process was so long because of the incredible transparency, outreach and research involved in these changes.  After four years and two City Commissions later, the City Commission has successfully completed this process and has passed groundbreaking legislation to encourage affordable housing in the city.

This process was not without controversy. There were opponents, who are secure and comfortable in their housing, objecting and wanting to create more barriers to units being built.  City staff even had to endure baseless attacks and venom from these objectors, some even upset that staff would meet with members of the business community who are also stakeholders.

Staff took the arrows in stride, and, with the backing of the City Manager who received his marching orders from the City Commission to make the changes, they came forward with thoughtful, well-researched and collaborative changes that were carefully contemplated by the City Commission.

The City of Sarasota went from being an example of why the state needed to intervene, to the statewide example of innovation in workforce housing in a few years. City staff has even been invited to speak by The Florida Housing Coalition about these seminal changes to encourage housing.

Congratulations to the City of Sarasota for facing the workforce housing problem and dealing with it head on in a careful and open manner. You have taken on the number one issue facing our community and remained unwavering in your goal of bringing solutions to the table. The Argus Foundation is grateful for these past two city commissions for dealing with a tough issue and being solution-oriented. 

Christine Robinson is Executive Director of The Argus Foundation.

Image courtesy Pixabay, by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi.

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