City Commission and staff looking into another way to spur affordable housing development in Sarasota

Legislative requirement sparks discussion about potential change in city policy

David Smith. News Leader photo
David Smith. News Leader photo

As a step forward in its effort to see more affordable housing provided in the community, the Sarasota City Commission may need to look no further than property it owns, the board members learned this week.

David Smith, general manager of the city’s Neighborhood and Development Services Department, explained to the commissioners during their regular meeting on July 18 that the state requires municipalities to maintain a list of government-owned property that is appropriate for construction of affordable housing (Florida State Statute 166.0451). That inventory must be updated every three years, he added. Therefore, he was before the board with a list of 32 properties for the board to consider.

Upon their approval of it, Smith continued, staff would follow guidelines established by city policy: First, begin negotiations with neighbors to determine whether they have any interest in purchasing the parcels; second, contact nonprofit organizations that provide affordable housing to determine their interest; and third, if property remains available after the first two steps, market it to developers. However, Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown explained that if the City Commission removed any remaining parcels from the list before selling them, proceeds would go into the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund in lieu of affordable dwellings being constructed on the land.

“These are generally located in northern Sarasota,” Smith pointed out. Four are in Sarasota County, he added; they resulted from a donation by Harvest Tabernacle, located on North Lime Avenue.

Some of the properties on the list were donated to the city, Smith explained. Others were acquired through tax deed sales, he continued, and a couple of them were direct purchases.

Vice Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie. File photo
Vice Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie. File photo

In response to a question from Vice Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie, Smith said staff probably will allow two months at the most to learn whether neighbors have any interest in the parcels. After that, staff will ask Don Hadsell, director of the Office of Housing and Community Development, to determine whether any nonprofit organizations would like to purchase some of the property for affordable housing projects. Staff will “give them a little bit of time,” Smith added.

“We have made Housing First a priority,” Eddie then pointed out. How will this process help with that, she asked.

“These 32 properties will be looked at early on in [this] initiative to see what we can do to help … encourage affordable housing on these sites,” City Manager Tom Barwin explained.

So the City Commission could choose to keep some of them to help build its inventory, Eddie asked.

“Correct,” Barwin replied. “We’ll get back to you on strategies, and whatever you approve, we’ll proceed with.”

The City Commission voted on this list on July 18. Image courtesy City of Sarasota
The City Commission voted on this list on July 18. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Eddie noted that, based on Smith’s comments and the memo provided to the board about that agenda item, it appeared the city would be last in order of consideration for any of the parcels’ ownership.

Barwin told her he believed staff would be coming back with alternative concepts.

Brown explained that the commission established the order of notification about the availability of the property. “You can change this policy.” Moreover, he said, “Not everything gets sold.”

Eddie replied that she would just like for the commission to consider the potential use of any of the parcels before they are put on the real estate market.

With no one having signed up to speak, Mayor Willie Shaw closed the public hearing on the matter and called for a vote. Commissioner Suzanne Atwell made the motion to approve the list, and Commissioner Susan Chapman seconded it. The motion passed unanimously.