Nonprofit providing Housing First dwellings for the city wins flexibility regarding number of units

CASL still will provide homes for eight people with funding allocated to the city from the federal government

Don Hadsell (left) and Scott Eller appear before the City Commission on Nov. 21. News Leader photo
Don Hadsell (left) and Scott Eller appear before the City Commission on Nov. 21. News Leader photo

Given the lapse of time between the period a regional nonprofit organization began researching duplexes it could purchase for the City of Sarasota’s Housing First initiative and the time it received funds from the city to pay for the units, the price had gone up, the nonprofit’s CEO told the City Commission this week.

Therefore, Scott Eller of Community Assisted Supportive Living Inc. (CASL) told the board during its regular meeting on Nov. 21, he was seeking the flexibility to purchase two single-family homes instead of the four duplexes he initially had researched. With more than a year having passed since he first considered the duplexes, he added, “the real estate market has tightened up a little bit. The units that we looked at originally [had been bought by someone else].”

Eller and Don Hadsell, director of the Office of Housing and Community Development in Sarasota County, also were seeking an amendment to the June 6 contract to eliminate the deadline by which CASL had to buy the first home. That date was Dec. 31.

The City Commission approved both requests on a 4-1 vote, with Vice Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie dissenting.

The agreement the City Commission approved on June 6 with CASL calls for the nonprofit to receive $289,054 in Community Development Block Grand (CDBG) funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as part of the city’s Housing First plan to move homeless individuals from the streets into dwelling units. The money comes to the city from HUD.

A memo provided to the board in advance of the meeting said that HUD had notified its grantees that the “documentation and underwriting guidelines for properties purchased with federal funds had been changed.” Therefore, HUD also let them know, a moratorium would be put on property purchases to give the HUD staff “time to develop new processes and procedures consistent with the HUD direction.”

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

All CASL transactions involving Housing First units still will have to be completed by July 31, 2017, the memo points out.

When Freeland Eddie asked Hadsell when he became aware of the moratorium, he replied that it was around the middle of October or early November.

When she then asked how long that was after the agreement with CASL was signed, Hadsell told her the effective date of the contract was June 28.

What was done between June and October, she continued, in terms of CASL’s attempts to buy property?

Hadsell explained that CASL was planning to close the middle of this week on a four-bed house in Kensington Park, into which it ultimately would be able to move four beneficiaries.

“We are looking to have the ability to buy single-family [units] versus duplexes,” Eller told the board. CASL still will serve eight people, as specified in the contract.

CASL is providing a $50,000 match for the HUD grant, Eller and Hadsell reminded the board. Eller pointed out that the organization is putting $5,000 toward the cost of the initial property, and it probably will spend another $10,000 to $15,000 to rehabilitate the house. That expense also will be counted as part of the match, Eller said.

Mayor Willie Shaw then asked whether the dwelling units CASL buys will become “sober homes,” a topic Shaw also brought up during the June discussion with Hadsell and Eller. At that time, Shaw explained he was referring to homeless individuals who also may be suffering with addictions or mental health issues.

“The model here is … permanent supportive housing,” Eller replied on Nov. 21. The goal is to get people off the street and into homes, he added.

A map shows the location of the Kensington Park community in Sarasota. Image from Google Maps
A map shows the location of the Kensington Park community in Sarasota. Image from Google Maps

No one representing CASL or any other agency will stay in one of the Housing First dwellings full-time, Eller continued. However, case managers regularly visit the homes to work with the clients, to ensure the individuals received assistance they need.

“Housing First isn’t necessarily sober housing,” Hadsell added.

A dwelling would have to have specific licensing to keep someone on-site 24 hours a day, Eller noted. That type of assisted living is “not the purpose of Housing First.”

When Shaw asked for a motion, Commissioner Liz Alpert called for approval of both amendments Hadsell had sought — elimination of the Dec. 31 deadline for purchase of the first home and allowing CASL the flexibility to reduce the number of homes it buys from four to two.

Commissioner Suzanne Atwell seconded it, and it then passed 4-1.