Chair Paul Caragiulo makes the request a day after staff releases a final report on community recommendations for addressing the issue
Sarasota County Commission Chair Paul Caragiulo made it plain on May 23 that he wants action, instead of just more discussion, that will lead to creation of affordable housing in the community.
Although the board members did not approve a formal motion, Caragiulo asked County Administrator Tom Harmer to direct staff to take the necessary steps — by Sept. 1 — to develop a list of potential zoning code changes that will serve as incentives to developers to build more affordable units. Those recommendations are to include measures related to parking requirements, fees of all types — including those that go to the county’s Utilities Department — appropriate locations within the county, and sizes of dwellings, with the potential for tiny house developments.
Commissioner Nancy Detert had offered the latter suggestion, which Caragiulo said he welcomed.
“This can’t wait any longer,” Caragiulo said of the need to spur affordable housing construction. “We have to put this in some kind of motion.”
Caragiulo’s comments were prompted partly by the release the previous day of county staff’s final situational report on affordable housing.
Additionally, seven representatives of the nonprofit organization Sarasota United for Responsibility (SURE) appeared before the board on May 23 in Sarasota to urge the commissioners to take the necessary steps to provide more affordable housing in the community.
As its GuideStar summary explains, “SURE exists as a faith-based Justice Ministry to train volunteer leaders to work with community leaders and public officials to correct inequities in the Sarasota community adversely [affecting] the poor, under-served and disadvantaged and provide hope for equality of opportunity for the future.” One of the nonprofit’s programs focuses on work with law enforcement leaders, the Sarasota city and county commissions and The Salvation Army to reduce homelessness. (GuideStar, as its website notes, “is the world’s largest source of information on nonprofit organizations.”)
“The business community says they can’t get workers,” Detert pointed out. “Well, you’re going to have fewer workers because they’re not going to drive for $9 an hour from Arcadia to here to do a minimum-wage job.”
She added that affordable housing “is not a problem indigenous to Sarasota County. It’s nationwide and even worldwide. Housing is at a crisis point. … We constantly have developers in here,” she continued, who ask for doubled housing density for proposed projects, so units can be affordable. “And their definition of ‘affordable’ is $250,000 and up, which is not really affordable.”
Detert concurred with Caragiulo’s call for specific steps the board could implement to foster the construction of housing that would cost “40% of gross monthly income for either rent or purchase.”
The board also could look into waiving impact fees, Detert said. “If we charge $10,000 a unit impact fees, [developers] can’t make it affordable for everybody.”
Commissioner Alan Maio also voiced his support for Caragiulo’s direction to staff, noting that by the time a developer adds in county water and wastewater fees for new construction, the cost with impact fees for the smallest residential unit is close to $18,000.
Caragiulo cited that issue, too, referring to discussions he has had with builders. “It’s been brought to my attention that there can potentially be a glitch in the process between [the] Utilities [Department] and [the Planning and] Development Services [Department] that can cause a less-than-expedited process to manifest itself.”
Caragiulo further noted his recognition “that it’s very likely that we do not have folks on our staff” with expertise in construction. Therefore, he continued, he would like to have staff undertake outreach to people who do handle that work; that would enable staff to bring specific recommendations to the board.
After she mentioned her desire to see tiny house developments included in those recommendations, Detert said, “I think the younger people want to live small. They’ve seen their parents lose houses, which has got to be a shock if you’re in middle school or high school, and you’re getting thrown out of a house.”
She never knew anyone who had lost a house to foreclosure prior to the Great Recession, Detert continued. Then “it seemed like every third person you met was losing their house.”
Maio suggested that any zoning code language the board members approve later this year could be incorporated easily into the new Unified Development Code (UDC), which they hope to adopt in September 2018. Staff already is working with a consulting firm on the process of reviewing, streamlining and then incorporating the county’s zoning code and land use development regulations into one document with the goal of making the regulations much easier for the public to understand.
When Caragiulo asked whether he should make a motion with the direction to staff, County Administrator Harmer told him he could handle the request as he would any similar suggestion from the board. That would entail conveying the commission’s wishes to staff and making sure the resulting recommendations adhere to the timeline Caragiulo had specified.
Harmer also pointed out that the final version of the situational report on affordable housing includes suggestions that mirror a few on Caragiulo’s list. Among them are providing more flexible housing types and making the permitting process more efficient.
In concluding the discussion, Caragiulo thanked the SURE representatives who appeared before the commission that morning. “We’re definitely going to need your support through the process,” he told them, adding that he would call on them when the board members need their help with continued public outreach. “Policies don’t change easily,” he said.