By Mary Dougherty
One of the best attributes of Sarasota County is that when an issue of critical importance is identified, that is when we see our community at its best. When an issue such as affordable housing reaches a crescendo there’s a cacophony from community groups and leaders to find solutions. This is what we are seeing with what has become a crisis in Sarasota County regarding affordable housing.
As a County we find ourselves in a unique situation brought about by the pandemic with funding to support the needs of local communities coming down from the Federal Government in the form of ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funding. Sarasota County is receiving approximately $84 million from this program. To their credit, the County surveyed citizens and businesses to identify their top priorities for the use of these funds. The #1 issue brought forth by the public was Affordable Housing. Our County Commissioners looked at the data and listened to citizens who came to speak on the subject and directed staff to come back with recommendations to allocate a significant portion of the funds to address the Affordable Housing crisis.
As I’ve learned from people far more knowledgeable than myself, eligible ARPA Housing investments include:
o Services to address homelessness, such as supportive housing, and to improve access to stable affordable housing among individuals experiencing homelessness;
o Affordable housing development to increase the supply of affordable and high-quality living units; (so new construction is allowable), and
o Housing vouchers, residential counseling, or housing navigation assistance to facilitate household moves to neighborhoods with high levels of economic opportunity and mobility for low-income residents, to help residents increase their economic opportunity and reduce concentrated areas of low economic opportunity.
Anecdotally I’ve also learned, as a result of my adult children looking for housing to be closer to work, that rent prices have skyrocketed in our area. The last number I’ve heard was that in the last year rental rates were up 43%. Frankly, that’s if you can even find a place available.
The Commercial Contracting Industry has been facing a labor shortage for years now. Not only due to a thriving economy that has created a need for workers, but a retirement tsunami that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
The current lack of affordable housing has created a situation where local contracting firms engage in recruitment at colleges/universities and offer candidates good jobs with good pay and they are turned down due to the cost of living in the area. This is creating a workforce/talent crisis in the region. These are exactly the type of young professionals we need to attract to the area to continue to have a robust and thriving community.
This is an issue that effects the entire community. The Sarasota County Commission and County staff are to be commended for using this opportunity to make real strides to address this problem. I am grateful to be working with an amazing group of professionals in the community that can look at this problem from every angle including issues of housing insecurity and its effect on mental health, the effect on Alice (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed) families in the community, the effect on business recruitment and retention and the myriad of issues created by the domino effect created by the lack of affordable housing. I am honored to be included around the table with such knowledgeable and passionate community leaders.
This is Sarasota at its best! With Government, the private sector and local foundations working together to solve this problem, I am certainly optimistic about 2022 in our community!