Mayor hears assurances that CASL expects to complete the contract before the Dec. 31 deadline
The nonprofit Community Assisted Supportive Living Inc. (CASL) will have an extra six months to purchase at least two homes for eight chronically homeless individuals under an amended agreement the Sarasota City Commission unanimously approved this week.
On June 6, 2016, the board initially awarded grant funding of $289,054 to CASL for the city’s Housing First approach to helping the homeless in the community. Then on Nov. 21, 2016, the commissioners amended the contract to allow CASL to buy only two homes, as long as the nonprofit provided housing to eight people.
During the latter meeting, Scott Eller, the CEO of CASL, explained that because of the lapse of time between the period when the nonprofit began researching duplexes it could purchase and the time it received the funding from the city to pay for the units, the price had gone up. Therefore, Eller sought the board’s approval of a change in the contract to allow for fewer homes as long as the same number of people were served.
A memo provided to the commission in advance of the meeting this week pointed out that in October 2016, “staff received instructions from HUD that all projects needed to conform to new underwriting standards. These … required projects to demonstrate that the amount of HUD funds was the least necessary to make the project viable and, to, at the same time, be of a sufficient amount to make sure that the project was financially viable during the term of affordability.” Staff worked with recipients of funds, such as CASL, to develop the new underwriting standards and a manual establishing “policies and procedures that they could use to conform with all federal and state regulations,” the memo adds. During that period, “staff placed the purchase of new properties on hold,” the memo continues. Therefore, CASL could not fulfill the terms of the contract the City Commission approved in June 2016, the memo points out.
The board also voted on Nov. 21, 2016 to allow CASL to extend its deadline for the purchase of the homes from Dec. 31, 2016 to July 31 of this year. That was in response to the loss of time because of the HUD changes.
During that November 2016 meeting, then-Vice Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie voted against both the decrease in the number of units and the extension of the timeline, after asking a series of questions about what had transpired since the June discussion.
During the commission’s May 15 regular meeting, Freeland Eddie — now the mayor — told Don Hadsell, director of the Office of Housing and Community Development in Sarasota County, that she had more questions.
“My understanding is that because of federal rules having to be changed,” CASL could not adhere to the original timeline the City Commission set, she told Hadsell.
“That is correct,” he responded.
Will the new six-month extension of the contract — to Dec. 31 of this year — be sufficient time for CASL “to get back on track?” she asked.
“Yes,” Hadsell responded.
Will CASL commit to that?, she asked.
“Yes,” Hadsell told her. In fact, he continued, “they’ve said that they actually will be able to finish sooner than that.”
When she then sought clarification that the number of homes would be two, Hadsell replied, “They have to complete the contract,” which calls for finding permanent supportive housing for eight homeless individuals.
Furthermore, he explained to Freeland Eddie, that means the homes will be “completely renovated and leased.”
Then City Commissioner Jennifer Ahearn-Koch — who was elected on May 9 — asked Hadsell whether CASL still would have the flexibility to purchase four homes.
“It could be as many as they want, as long as they provide [for] eight beneficiaries,” he said. “That was the key to us … the eight beneficiaries.”
Freeland Eddie asked where the homes would be located.
As long as they are not in the areas that have been prohibited by the contract, Hadsell responded, they could be anywhere.
The contract specifies that the homes “must be located outside areas of high poverty,” as shown in an attached exhibit.
“It’s good to hear that they’re going to be within the city,” she told him.
CASL also has some state funding, Hadsell explained, so houses it purchases with that money can be outside the city.
When Commissioner Hagen Brody — who also was elected on May 9 — asked the source of the city’s funding, Hadsell pointed out that the money comes through the Community Development Block Grant program administered by HUD. “Each year … it’s distributed by formula to specific cities.”
City Manager Tom Barwin noted that Hadsell works for Sarasota County as well as the city.
Then Vice Mayor Liz Alpert made the motion to approve the second amendment to the contract with CASL, and Ahearn-Koch seconded it.