Habitat for Humanity to construct affordable homes on 10 Newtown parcels that City of Sarasota will transfer to it at no cost

President and CEO of nonprofit estimates ‘three-plus years’ for construction to be compelted

This is the list of parcels that are being turned over to Habitat for Humanity Sarasota. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

On a unanimous vote this week, the Sarasota City Commission authorized the transfer of 10 lots to Habitat for Humanity Sarasota for affordable homes that will be built in the traditionally African American community of Newtown.

Habitat will not pay any money for the property, according to the formal agreement that the board members approved. That term comes in exchange for Habitat’s “covenant to construct affordable housing for sale to low-income households,” the agreement notes.

As the Agenda Request Form for the Sept. 5 commission meeting explained, 19 city-owned properties approved as suitable for affordable housing as of Oct. 18, 2021 were included in a Request for Proposals (RFP) that sought “qualified and experienced firms to construct, market and sell” affordable single-family homes to low-income households.

It took three advertisements of that RFP, Mayor Kyle Battie said on Sept. 5, before Habitat submitted its proposal for the construction of three-bedroom, two-bath houses, including garages, within the Newtown Conservation Historic Overlay District.

The homes will be sold to households making at or below 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI) for the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton Metropolitan Statistical Area, the Agenda Request Form noted. Those homes will remain affordable for a minimum of 30 years.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has determined that the AMI this year for the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton area is $98,700 for a family of four. Eighty percent of that figure is $73,100, HUD’s chart shows.

Renee Snyder, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity Sarasota, told the commissioners that she expects the homes to be built “over the next three-plus years.”

Renee Snyder. Image from the Habitat for Humanity Sarasota website

The agreement with Habitat for Humanity gives the nonprofit a maximum of five years.

A memo in the backup materials for the Sept. 5 meeting regarding that agenda item noted that the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office had reported that the market value of the 10 parcels adds up to $407,100.

A chart in that memo, written by Cindy Emshoff, general manager of the Office of Housing & Community Development, showed that the parcel with the highest value was the one located at 1280 Myrtle St.: $79,000. That site comprises 7,627 square feet, or slightly less than 0.18 of an acre, the Property Appraiser’s Office record shows.

The lowest value was $28,800, for the 5,00-square-foot parcel standing at 2400 Pershing Ave.

When Commissioner Debbie Trice asked Snyder why the organization was interested in only 10 of the lots, instead of all 19, Snyder explained that the presence of oaks designated Grand Trees because of their size, as well as setback issues, had led the nonprofit’s leaders to conclude that nine of the parcels would pose challenges to home construction.

A section of the Request for Proposals said, “All homes constructed must meet the Florida Building Code, the City’s building codes or Sarasota County building codes and comply with all City of Sarasota applicable land development regulations, including the City’s tree ordinance, based on the configuration of the lots offered within the project area.”

Both Mayor Battie and Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch had pulled the item from the first Consent Agenda of routine business matters on Sept. 5, so they could offer comments.

“I thought it was very important for the public to know that this effort is going on,” Ahearn-Koch said.

Battie put a proverbial spotlight on efforts to preserve Newtown “as best we can,” noting that 70% of the parcels in the community are owned by people who do not live there. He addresses that issue “all the time,” he added. His message to the people of Newtown, he said, is “Stop selling your generational wealth. … If this continues, Newtown will go the way of Overtown, which is now [the Rosemary District].”

(The city’s website explains, “Overtown was the first enclave or neighborhood established by African American people in Sarasota, Florida.”)

All that remains of Overtown, Battie stressed, is a sign that denotes its past existence.

“It’s incumbent upon me … to try to preserve [Newtown] and protect it … along with the efforts of this body,” Battie added, pointing out that Newtown is in his district.

Then City Manager Marlon Brown explained that, for years, city staff has been working to, as he put it, “offload” vacant lots that would be suitable for affordable homes. Every couple of years, Brown noted, the City Commission is asked to approve a list with such parcels.

This is an aerial view of the property located at 1280 Myrtle St. The lot is bound in purple. Image from the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s website

Among other details of the plans, Emshoff of the Office of Housing & Community Development pointed out that individuals who have received “housing choice vouchers” will get special consideration for ownership of the new Habitat houses, thanks to city collaboration with the Sarasota Housing Authority. She indicated that the vouchers routinely are used to enable families to move into rental housing.

HUD explains on its website that the “housing choice voucher program is the federal government’s major program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market. Since housing assistance is provided on behalf of the family or individual, participants are able to find their own housing, including single-family homes, townhouses and apartments.”

HUD adds, “Housing choice vouchers are administered locally by public housing agencies (PHAs),” which receive funds from HUD for that work.

“A housing subsidy is paid to the landlord directly by the PHA on behalf of the participating family,” HUD points out.

First responders and teachers also are seen as likely owners of the new homes, given their need for affordable housing, Emshoff said.

“We’re pleased to be able to embark on this endeavor with the city,” Snyder of Habitat told the commissioners.

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