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Affordable housing proposed for Lakewood Ranch area

If approved, the 66-unit rental townhome project will be located on Lorraine Road next to Savanna at Lakewood Ranch.

Savanna at Lakewood Ranch can be seen from the proposed future site of Lorraine Crossings.
Savanna at Lakewood Ranch can be seen from the proposed future site of Lorraine Crossings.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer
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Development is nothing new to the Lakewood Ranch area, but a development that includes affordable housing units is now on the horizon.

Windham Development submitted an application to Manatee County to build 66 townhomes on a 10-acre parcel located at 3518 Lorraine Road.

If approved, 25% or 17 of the townhomes will be rented at a “moderate affordable” rate as determined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

The project was recommended unanimously by the Planning Commission on April 11. It will go before the Board of County Commissioners on April 18 at the land use meeting.

The yellow rectangle shows the 10-acre site where Windham Development wants to build 66 townhomes.
Courtesy image

Amara, the county's first affordable housing project approved in East County, was approved in January. The project will provide 152 units of affordable housing on Lena Road about a mile south of S.R. 64. 

If approved, Lorraine Crossings will offer the first affordable units in the Lakewood Ranch area. Savanna at Lakewood Ranch is located to the north and west of the property, and Esplanade at Azario is to the east. 

What is affordable housing?

Affordable housing is not Section 8 housing. These are not government-run apartments. The apartments are in standard developments, but at least 25% of the units are guaranteed not to exceed HUD’s rental cap for a set number of years. 

In the case of Lorraine Crossings, 17 units must remain rent controlled over a period of 20 years. Rowena Young-Gopie, Housing Development Coordinator for Manatee County, said that the rest of the units are priced at market rate by the developer. 

The word “affordable” is subjective given the location of the rental. Manatee County’s median income is $97,000, one of the higher medians in the state. Meanwhile, neighboring DeSoto County is on the lower end of the scale at $57,100.

Depending on the number of bedrooms a unit has, the difference between the two medians results in a $500 to $1,000 difference in rent caps. A studio apartment in Manatee has a higher rent cap than a two-bedroom in DeSoto.

For the Manatee workforce, that means even “affordable housing” in the area can be pricey. Rent caps are income-based, so a lessee earning 120% of the median could pay up to $2,694 a month for a three-bedroom unit in Lorraine Crossings.

For a family earning 80% of the median income, the rent would be capped at $1,795 a month for the same unit. 

The affordable housing units at both Amara and Lorraine Crossings are designated for applicants earning from 80-120% of the median income of $97,000.

Under those percentages, a family of five can earn up to $130,320. But could that family of five afford an apartment even on the low-end of the rent scale? The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates the average annual cost of living in Florida is $50,689 per person.

“In my opinion, I don’t think of $1,800 as affordable,” Coldwell Banker Realtor Chris Schwartz said. “You have $1,800 plus water, electricity, cable and internet. And now, you need a car to drive around. Then you need gas and have to eat. And if you have children, there’s daycare expenses.” 

Who benefits?

The county’s intent is to provide more affordable housing options for residents, but the high median income poses a challenge because that’s the number the rent and income caps are derived from. 

“We don’t create this calculation, we just adhere to HUD rules,” Young-Gopie said. 

Looking at the rental market, what’s being proposed as “moderate affordable” by HUD can be found outside these deals brokered by Manatee County. 

Developers are incentivized to include affordable housing in their developments through the Livable Manatee program, which was passed in 2017 and revamped in 2022. 

Developers benefit from the program through higher density allotments, expedited permitting and design leeway for parking, buffers and access points. 

To date, developers in East County have only signed deals to serve residents earning between 80-120% of the median income. So on the high-end, the caps are competitive within the current market. 

Lorraine Crossing isn’t approved or built yet, but as of today, large families earning 120% of the median income could find a bigger bang for their buck next door in Savanna. 

Single family homes with four bedrooms and up to three bathrooms are listed for rent on for less than HUD’s high-end rent cap of $3,006 for a four-bedroom. 

Two apartment complexes near the proposed site for Lorraine Crossings, Vida Lakewood Ranch and Estia at Lakewood Ranch, start two-bedroom apartments at less than HUD’s rate for those earning 120% of the median income in that category, too. 

However, if comparing Vida and Estia to an affordable unit at the 80% income level, there is a savings. Two-bedrooms start at about $2,200 in both complexes, and the HUD cap is $1,553 for that income bracket. 

Vida and Estia are luxury apartment complexes that come with heated pools and fitness centers among other amenities. Lorraine Crossings and Amara will be standard housing.

Planning Commission Chair Richard Bedford asked Windham to find room for a “tot lot” at Lorraine Crossings.

“Since it’s an affordable housing project, one would assume there’s going to be some children running around,” Bedford said. “Maybe between now and the board hearing, you might want to entertain that.”

The county is widening Lorraine Road from two lanes to four between 59th Avenue East and State Road 64. The county needs about a third of an acre along Lorraine Road to complete the improvements. 

Because Windham plans to include affordable housing, the project was able to bump up the density from 3 dwelling units per acre to 6.85 units per acre.

In between the road and wetlands, the 66 townhomes will be built within nine buildings at a maximum of two stories. A two-lane street will run through the center of the complex to provide access from Lorraine Road. 

If approved, construction is expected to begin in the first or second quarter of 2025.



Lesley Dwyer

Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.

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