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Public housing projects trigger resistance in Newtown

Written by on Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Neighbors are concerned about concentration of poverty in an already poor area.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: Apr. 10, 2024

Host: Government-subsidized housing is essential for the lowest-income families, to face exploding housing costs in this area. So it should be welcome news that the Sarasota Housing Authority is pushing hard for new construction. But there’s one problem: The majority-black Newtown is already home to the highest concentration of public housing anywhere here. Ramon Lopez reports.

Ramon Lopez: The Sarasota Housing Authority continues its quest to provide more affordable housing in the City of Sarasota. But there’s a difference of opinion on how best to get there. And even with projects in the pipeline, there’s 8,000 anxious people on the Authority’s wait list.

On Monday, April 1, those folks got some good news. The Authority received City Commission approval of zoning amendments that will allow high-density developments on two sites in Newtown. That will add as many as 770 multi-family residential units there. They will be on property owned by the Authority on 22nd Street. The Authority wants to build Central Gardens there, a 39-unit, four-story apartment complex.

The City Commissioners voted unanimously to reverse the Planning Board’s recommendation regarding the 22nd Street property. By a vote of four to one, with Kyle Battie dissenting, the commissioners backed the Planning Board’s 3-2 vote recommendation to approve the Bertha Mitchell land-use change. The deal will allow — sometime in the future — transformation of the Bertha Mitchell public housing complex into high-density attainable housing.

We hear from Sarasota Housing Authority CEO William Russell and Authority consultant Joel Freedman:

A couple blocks east, across Orange Avenue: Amaryllis Park, phase 3 plans.

William Russell: We’ve removed blight, we’ve redeveloped, we’ve taken down obsolete housing that was sometimes 80 years old, and we’re putting back new modern housing with modern amenities — central air, believe it or not, none of our former public housing communities had central air. We’re also achieving a greater mix of incomes. We’ve actually de-concentrated poverty in Newtown and specifically on our sites. Through our redevelopment, we’ve always put back much more of a mix of incomes, even though you’ve still been able to accomplish affordable housing and yet not gentrified the Newtown community. Those are important goals of ours as well.

Joel Freedman: The good news about Bertha Mitchell is that the site plan would come back to you, the city commission, for final approval. So when and if that happens — I don’t know if you’ll all be here, I don’t know if I’ll be here — it would be a great new community for the Housing Authority. There is no more land, right, is it? That’s the last hurrah.

RL: Planning Board member Terrill Salem is a single-family homebuilder who lives in Newtown. He said high-density attainable housing would be detrimental to his community.

Terrill Salem: Back of 22nd Street is single-family housing. You got to build four storys, that’s not proper planning. There’s no step-down there. You don’t go from multifamily to single family. They don’t have enough land to give the appropriate barriers, buffers that they need. They say there’s going to be concentrated poverty in the area. Currently, the 34234 zip code is Sarasota’s lowest economic zip code. So what they’re planning to do, what they did not tell you, is that the funding that they will be using for the project at Bertha Mitchell precludes them from making it a mixed-use project. That’s very important. So Bertha Mitchell will be 731 poor people.

Terrill Salem

RL: City Commissioner Kyle Battie agreed with Salem on the Bertha Mitchell matter.

Kyle Battie: My issue, to Mrs. Salem’s point, is just the concentration of — and I don’t want to turn people this poor or whatever, but I totally hear what it is he’s saying and understand what it is. It’s saying you have people that are pretty much living just below consistency. This becomes an issue when they’re all concentrated and live in amongst each other. And you almost see like no way out.

RL: This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.


WSLR News aims to keep the local community informed with our 1/2 hour local news show, quarterly newspaper and social media feeds. The local news broadcast airs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6pm.