To be scheduled in August or September, commissioners aim to take action on affordable housing by hosting an expert-led workshop.
For several consecutive years, the Sarasota County Commission has identified affordable housing as a priority. And now, they say, they’re tired of seeing no progress.
Commissioners returned to the topic of affordable housing with a renewed sense of urgency Wednesday during a monthly budget workshop. And while no mention of specific prices, rents or income levels were discussed, they did agree it was time to take more concrete action.
“We’ve named this is a board priority for three or four years and we’ve got no progress,” Commission Chair Charles Hines said to Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services department. “There’s no one driving this bus in your staff. That’s our fault.”
Once again, commissioners bounced back and forth several concepts for the development of new housing structures — among them, constructing property on surplus county lands, rezoning one of the available parcels in the Celery Fields or overhauling “dying” strip malls in urban areas.
“Just so we’re clear, I’m not looking for a customer service survey based on if our developers are happy with the process,” Commissioner Nancy Detert said. “I want experts in the affordable housing field … We want something to come out of here with worthwhile information.”
Commissioners unanimously agreed a workshop would be a feasible first step to finding an affordable housing solution, particularly as the issue has been ongoing and may stay that way as a result of population growth.
“Affordable housing is a major, major issue in this area,” Commissioner Christian Ziegler said. “I think we’re always going to have a problem with affordable housing. People want to come here. We’re a destination.”
Staff’s primary question, then, was what format the workshop might take.
County Administrator Jon Lewis asked the board if they might want to hold a workshop “similar to the Siesta Key parking workshop,” wherein the meeting largely functioned as a public forum for official county input.
Commissioners did not warm to the idea.
“There’s no one driving this bus in your staff. That’s our fault.”
“I’d like to be organized, not open to the public for three minutes,” Hines said. “This needs to be experts.”
“We’re not listening to under 100 people taking three minutes,” Commissioner Al Maio echoed. “You can set up a workshop format … bring in plans of what [developers] want to build, where they want to build. Or conversely, have [developers] tell us where they hit a wall in our community … and didn’t reach completion.”
Detert said she primarily wanted to see affordable housing experts — such as the Gulf Coast Community Foundation or Sarasota Housing Authority — or, at the very least, experts in the field of housing who are “interested in becoming” focused on affordable housing.
Ultimately, commissioners directed staff to start organizing a workshop tentatively scheduled for August or September. To hold it prior to their December board retreat, they said, was a priority.
“There is a public need," Hines said. “We have been moving along very incrementally … If it takes a workshop to get there, then that’s what we’ve got to do.”
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