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Affordable Housing: Meeting a Dire Need in Sarasota, Florida 

NSP2 Program funds were instrumental in the redevelopment of the former Janie Poe public housing into Janie’s Garden.
NSP2 Program funds were instrumental in the redevelopment of the former Janie Poe public housing into Janie’s Garden. Credit: City of Sarasota Office of Housing and Community Development .

Located on the southwestern coast of Florida, Sarasota is well known for its rich culture and long stretches of sandy beaches. Recognized as a charming tourist destination, Sarasota’s population grows substantially starting in November, due to its mild climate during winter months. Jobs in real estate development and tourism dominate the local economy, but with the economic downturn and job losses primarily in the construction industry, the pool of unemployment has risen to 8.7 percent (up from 3.4 percent in 2000). Data from the Shimberg Center for Affordable Housing shows, investing in affordable housing is a critical and growing need in the area. In 2010, about 38 percent of Sarasota County’s renter households (some 13,973 renter households) were estimated as rent-burdened. This proportion of rent-burdened households is projected to remain about the same in 2015 and 2020. Notably, by 2020, slightly less than half of rent-burdened families will be severely cost-burdened, with more than 50 percent of their earnings going toward rent and utilities. Sarasota’s Comprehensive Plan aims to aggressively restore blighted properties and create new infill affordable rental developments for low- and moderate-income residents in an area where developable land is limited.

Between January and March 2011, the Sarasota Consortium (consisting of Sarasota County and city of Sarasota) met regularly to provide public input on the city’s 2011-2016 consolidated plan. During these meetings, the Staff Steering Committee (SCC) — drawn from all municipalities that make up the Consortium — outlined the highest priorities for the county and city; the SCC named numerous housing-oriented objectives, including maintaining affordable single-family housing stock, revitalizing public housing, and increasing the numbers of affordable rentals.

Public, private, and nonprofit groups are working to meet the current and future needs for affordable housing. For instance, private developers in North Sarasota, Florida recently announced plans for a $20 million affordable housing complex, Rolling Green Apartments. The 118-unit development will include 2-, 3-, and 4-bedroom apartments, and will offer a children’s play area, a pool, and an exercise room. At least 40 percent of the rentals will be affordable for people in occupations such as nursing, education, and law enforcement. The development, slated for completion in 2013, will add much-needed affordable rental units to the area.

Sarasota is also benefitting from affordable multifamily housing paid for by funds from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program2 (NSP2), says Jane Hindall, program manager for the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development. Thanks to NSP2 funds, blighted foreclosed multifamily housing developments, including several buildings on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, were torn down. In their place, she says, the city and its nonprofit partners are constructing multiple multifamily affordable rental developments. These include a four-unit development underway on North Tuttle Avenue, and another 15-unit affordable housing project, also on North Tuttle, that should be completed by the end of 2012. In addition, about $2.5 million of NSP2 funds went toward Janie’s Gardens Phase II, a redevelopment of the Janie Poe public housing complex that now consists of 68 affordable apartments equipped with such sustainability features as Energy Star appliances. The mixed-use development also includes 10,500 square feet of retail space, known as the Marketplace at Janie’s Garden. These and other local projects, including an initiative by a local church to buy single-family homes and transform them into affordable rentals, “really make a difference,” Hindall says, given the city’s need for affordable rental housing.