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Peace & Justice Report: Jon Thaxton on affordable housing

Written by on Thursday, June 20, 2024

The former county commissioner pushes for local funding, inclusionary zoning.


By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: June 19, 2024

Host: Jon Thaxton is a former Sarasota County commissioner and current vice president of the Community Foundation. He is also a forceful advocate for affordable housing. On today’s Peace & Justice Report on WSLR, he advocated for a local funding source and for putting the onus on luxury developers.

Johannes Werner: Everybody talks about affordable housing these days. But the Sarasota County Commission has yet to take any serious steps towards tackling the affordable housing crisis. At this point, the commissioners often ignores the advisory council it set up to … well … advise it. Jon Thaxton happens to chair the advisory council.

Sarasota Square Mall plans: Zero affordable housing.

Jon Thaxton: The affordable housing committee recognized these derelict retail centers as an opportunity. They’re stranded assets; they already have the traffic concurrency approved; they already have the impervious surface; they’ve already destroyed the environment ;they already have the transportation infrastructure in place; they are on transit lines; they are the perfect and the ideal location for us to be locating affordable housing. But once those development rights are given away, the ability to recapture affordable housing units is lost in perpetuity. So it was a monumental missed opportunity. 

JW: At this point, practically all local affordable housing construction is funded with federal money. But key to making a dent on the crisis, says Thaxton, is setting up a local funding source.

JT: We don’t have that here. As I just said, we rely upon one time infusions of money in order to fuel our affordable housing trust fund and our housing trust. What we need is — because we have a reoccurring, constantly increasing demand for affordable housing — we need a reoccurring sustainable funding source that our local government can administer to help developers bring the cost of providing affordable housing down into range. We don’t have it, and it is a recommendation of our committee, and it is a recommendation that has been ignored by the policy makers.

JW: As the county and city commissions continue to approve luxury project after luxury project, they are actually making things worse, Thaxton argues.

Thaxton

JT: We have these developments that we are approving every other week in Sarasota. Both in the city of Venice, the city of Northport, county of Sarasota, and the city of Longboat Key — excuse me, the city of Sarasota, that are building these units that advertise — and by units, I’m talking tens of thousands of them, I’m not talking about a couple of hundred, these are thousands of units — and they all advertise this concierge service, this luxury lifestyle, this maintenance free living, you know, these fine dining, and all these things. And that’s good, right? I’m not knocking that. But where the hell do you think all of those service workforce people are going to live? They are creating a demand for a workforce and paying no attention to the housing. 

One of the recommendations of the Sarasota city and county affordable housing advisory committee that I chair is that, at every land use decision that we make in this county, we ask the question: How is this land use decision going to impact affordable housing?

JW: There is no silver bullet, Thaxton admits. But one powerful bullet would be to actually tell luxury developers to build affordable into their housing projects.

JT: About the only way that we can stop this bleeding — the only way that I’ve seen after looking at national best practices — is something called mandatory inclusionary zoning. What inclusionary zoning says is that if you build a housing development, if you’re asking for a rezoning to build a housing development, and you’re going to create a demand for 20 affordable housing units, then you have to create a supply for affordable housing units. 

Now, some people will tell you that’s against state law. Don’t listen to them. They’re wrong. The state law is explicit to local governments that they can do that. All they have to do is hold the developer whole, meaning that the developer cannot suffer an economic consequence as a result of providing those 20 units. The state legislation is also very explicit in saying that local governments can use the increase in value that the property owner enjoys by the increased density to offset those costs. And let me tell you, in Sarasota County, those density increases far, far exceed the loss of profit that the requirement for affordable housing units will create.

JW: If you want to hear the full interview with Thaxton on today’s Peace & Justice Report, go to www.wslr.org, click on “archive”, and look for the latest Peace & Justice Report show.

Reporting for WSLR News, this is Johannes Werner.

 

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