County’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee to offer latest analysis of strategies for County Commission consideration in October

Report Commissioner Detert requested in June mostly details actions board already has taken to provide developer incentives for creation of affordable homes

This chart shows developments the County Commission has approved that will have affordable housing units. ‘AMI’ refers to the Area Median Income, which is determined each year by the federal government. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On June 9, Sarasota County Commissioner Nancy Detert won the support of her colleagues for a new staff report on affordable housing efforts, specifically noting the need for strategies “that aren’t so cumbersome and speed up the process [of creating affordable housing].”

The report she and her colleagues received, however, focused mostly on actions the commissioners have taken over the past couple of years to try to entice developers to build more affordable dwelling units.

The July 8 document does say that the county’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee is scheduled to complete its annual review of various strategies by Sept. 30. That latest analysis is scheduled for commission consideration in October, the report adds.

Further, the staff points out that a proposed text amendment to the county’s Unified Development Code that relates to affordable housing will be brought to the board as part of the next cycle for such action, which opens in September. The July 8 report references commission discussion about options for mixed-use developments and redevelopment proposals.

The Unified Development Code contains all of the county’s land-use and zoning regulations.

This is the purpose of the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, as noted on the county website. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Before Commissioner Charles Hines had to step down from the board in November 2020, because of term limits, both he and Commissioner Alan Maio talked about the potential of spurring construction of residential units in older, underused shopping centers. Those facilities already have plenty of parking spaces and other infrastructure necessary for housing, both men pointed out.

For one example, they noted the potential of second-floor units above retail space.

Maio has alluded to that prospect a couple of times over the past months, as he and his colleagues have talked about their desire to see developers construct more affordable or workforce housing units.

In regard to the work of the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee (AHAC), the July 8 staff report notes that the key strategies that group examines each year are the following:

  • Expediting development orders or permits for affordable housing projects.
  • Modification of impact fees for affordable housing.
  • Allowing flexibility in densities for affordable housing.
  • Allowing affordable accessory residential units in residential zoning districts.
  • Reducing parking and setback requirements for affordable housing.
  • Allowing flexibility in lot configurations for affordable housing.
  • Establishing a process through which a local government, before adopting new policies, procedures, ordinances, regulations or plan provisions, considers whether those will increase the cost of housing.
  • Preparing a printed inventory of locally owned public lands suitable for affordable housing.
  • Supporting development near transportation hubs and major employment centers and mixed-use developments.

In response to comments Commissioner Detert has made about the work of the Office of Housing and Community Development (OHCD), which is a cooperative effort of the City and County of Sarasota, the report explains that the agency offers various programs, including those focused on home repair, housing rehabilitation, utility connections, services for the homeless, neighborhood stabilization and rental assistance.

Funding for those programs come from the State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP), the federal Community Development Block Grant program and the federal HOME Investment Partnerships Program, the report points out.

Revised policy guidelines and a request to re-appropriate SHIP funds from an account designated for home rehabilitation to one providing down payment assistance will be brought before both the Sarasota County and City commissioners before the end of this fiscal year for consideration and approval, the report adds.

The Florida Housing Finance Corp., which administers the SHIP program, explains on its website that the funds go to local governments “as an incentive to create partnerships that produce and preserve affordable homeownership and multifamily housing. The program was designed to serve very low, low and moderate income families.”

The corporation also points out, “SHIP dollars may be used to fund emergency repairs, new construction, rehabilitation, down payment and closing cost assistance, impact fees, construction and gap financing, mortgage buy-downs, acquisition of property for affordable housing, matching dollars for federal housing grants and programs, and homeownership counseling.”

This graphic in the Florida Housing Finance Corp.’s annual report for 2020 shows rental units it has financed that are available or will be available, by county. Image from the Florida Housing Finance Corp.

As for the HOME Program: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) explains on its website that that initiative uses a formula to provide grants to states and localities for communities to use — “often in partnership with local nonprofit groups” — to pay for “a wide range of activities including building, buying, and/or rehabilitating affordable housing for rent or homeownership or providing direct rental assistance to low-income people. HOME is the largest federal bloc grant to state and local governments designed exclusively to create affordable housing for low-income households,” HUD’s website says.

The county report further notes that for the 2022 fiscal year, which will begin on Oct. 1, the County and City commissioners have approved using $500,000 in HOME funds for down payment assistance, as outlined in what the federal government calls the “Consolidated Plan” for housing aid to low-income families.

Prior County Commission action

The county report also lists the various actions the County Commission has taken in an effort to generate affordable housing development.

Among those, the report notes the following:

  • A 2017 resolution directs that projects that include affordable housing units get an expedited review.
  • In 2019, half dwelling units, which contain 750 square feet, were approved.
  • Accessory dwelling units are allowed in certain residential zoning districts.
  • Parking space requirements were reduced for multi- and single-family developments.
  • Mobility and utility impact fees have been lowered to create incentives to developers of affordable units.
This is an example of a half dwelling unit, as presented to the County Commission in May 2018. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Yet another step the commission has taken is to declare two county-owned properties to be surplus, so those parcels could be offered as affordable housing sites through an Invitation to Negotiate process. At board direction, staff is working on proposals for land located at 4644 N. Tamiami Trail and 2501 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

Additionally, the report points out, in 2004, the county and the City of North Port entered into an interlocal agreement regarding the sale of 2,282 lots that had been escheated to the county for non-payment of taxes. Fifty-five percent of the net proceeds were to be distributed to the city, with the remaining money going to the county. As of early 2020, the report continued, 206 lots still were in county ownership, “23 of which were retained for archaeological or environmental purposes,” the report says. The sale of the other properties totaled more than $911,000, the report adds, with the county’s portion to be used for affordable housing efforts.

Projects approved with affordable housing units

Among other information, the report points out that the County Commission has approved seven developments that are to include affordable housing units. Five of those are being constructed under the guidelines of the county’s 2050 Plan, which governs development east of Interstate 75.

The project with the largest number of affordable dwellings is Waterside at Lakewood Ranch — 2,037 out of a total of 5,144 residential units. That is a Schroeder-Manatee Ranch development.

The project with the second highest number of affordable units is Skye Ranch, with 517 out of a total of 3,450, a county chart shows.

However, none of the seven projects will offer homes below 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI), which is a figure HUD sets each year.

The 2021 AMI for the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton Metropolitan Statistical Area is $77,200. Therefore, 80% of AMI for a family of four is $61,750, HUD’s chart says.

This is the 2021 AMI chart produced by HUD. Image courtesy U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

The July 8 report for the County Commission points out, “[S]taff is prepared to initiate opportunities to further [commission guidance on the basis of the report’s information].”

The County Commission is on its annual summer break. The board members are due back the week of Aug. 16.