City of Sarasota offers fix to affordable housing crisis
Written by WSLR News on Thursday, September 14, 2023
Solutions usually are controversial. Not this one.
By Ramon Lopez
Original Air Date: Sept. 13, 2023
Host: Fixes to the affordable housing crisis are always controversial. Apparently, the City of Sarasota has found one solution that isn’t. Ramon Lopez will tell you more on that.
Ramon Lopez: The Sarasota City Commissioners in another unanimous vote authorized the transfer of 10 lots in the historic African American community of Newtown to Habitat for Humanity Sarasota. As part of the deal, Habitat will get those 10 parcels for free, so affordable three-bedroom, two-bath houses can be built on those now empty lots within the next three years or so.
Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch said the small affordable housing project will have a big impact.
Jen Ahearn-Koch: This is an affordable housing project and a collaboration between Habitat for Humanity and the City of Sarasota. I thought it was really important for the community to know that the city is doing this and that they’re aware of this project. There are 10 homes that are going to be built, and they’re all going to be affordable for 30 years. Not a lot, but it’s something and it takes efforts like this – one step at a time, one house at a time, one family at a time, and one lot at a time.
R.L.: Sarasota Mayor Kyle Battie said the move by the city and Habitat will provide housing for those in need, while preserving an area rich in black history.
Kyle Battie: These properties are in the area of Newtown. We had 19 properties up here, put them out for RFP twice, and finally got some takers. As you know, we’re in critical mass for affordable housing, attainable housing, and we’re doing everything in our power, from a legislative standpoint, to try and preserve Newtown as best we can. [Seventy percent of properties in] Newtown, more or less, are owned by investors that don’t live there. With [so many Newtown residents] having sold their properties, their generational wealth, it’s hard to make a dent in that problem. I speak to this all the time. So, for those you out there listening and who can’t make it here: Stop selling your generational wealth, stop selling your property! Because if this continues, Newtown will go the way of Overtown, which is now the Rosemary District. It will be reduced to a sign that says ‘Here once lived the second African American community in Sarasota’. Through this commission and the city, we do everything we can to try and preserve that area. We got the historical designation nationally for Newtown, and we’re trying to get it done locally.
R.L.: City Manager Marlon Brown said it took some time to find a group to take on the affordable housing project.
Marlon Brown: This commission, with its vision and with its direction, requested that we put out for RFP these vacant lots. We’ve done it – as the mayor alluded to – twice, without any takers that would put some really good affordable housing in there. So I thank Mrs. Snyder and Habitat for Humanity for taking the lead on 10 of those properties.
R.L.: Cindy Emshoff, general manager of the city’s Office of Housing and Community Development, listed the criteria for ownership of the new affordable houses.
Cindy Emshoff: All of these properties will be built for the benefit of low-income households. That means households with incomes at 80% or lower than the area median income, as well as first responders, teachers and the like. They get a 30-year mortgage that is affordable to them, and that is how we are preserving affordability.
R.L.: Renee Snyder, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity Sarasota, said the deal results from a longstanding partnership between Habitat and the City of Sarasota.
Renee Snyder: Habitat does have a proven model. We look at ourselves as partners. Over a number of years, we have partnered with the City of Sarasota. We serve families with their ‘forever homes’. And we’re pleased to be able to embark on this endeavor with the city to build 10 homes in the Newtown community. We will be serving families over the next three-plus years in building homes on the 10 lots we’ve identified here.
R.L.: Commissioner Debbie Trice asked Snyder why the organization was interested in only 10 of the lots, instead of all 19 offered.
R.S.: We looked at all 19 properties, and we conducted an assessment. There are various reasons. Some have grand oaks that [stand in the way of building] on the lots, because some of the grand oaks had setback challenges. We selected the lots that we thought fit into our models best, that we felt we could catapult them, and build on them and complete them within the next three years.
R.L.: This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.