PALMETTO -- Forty-five Palmetto residents signed a petition to establish a housing authority within the city in hopes that it will provide affordable housing for residents. The petition was delivered to City Hall Wednesday by Commissioner Charles Smith.
"There's not enough decent affordable housing in Palmetto," said Smith, who also signed the petition.
A housing authority would create opportunities and jobs for developers, and improve safety, Smith said.
"One of the benefits would be to establish affordable rental units for citizens that have retired and live on a set income," he said.
Without a housing authority the city is unable to receive some grants and federal assistance, Smith said.
"If a hurricane or disaster comes through the city of Palmetto half the residents cannot rebuild as is," he said, noting that there are building codes that specify what can be rebuilt and where rebuilding can occur. "If we have a disaster come, you must have a housing authority to receive federal funds. ... That needs to be established now, not after a disaster."
The state may establish a housing authority at the commission's urging, said Donna White, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. But since there isn't a lot of federal funding to build new public housing, the new housing authority might be one that would only administer a federal housing program.
"Local housing authorities have a contract with HUD to administer the federal housing programs, that includes public housing and the Housing Choice Voucher Program known as Section 8," said White.
There are about 2,000 housing authorities in the nation that solely administer Section 8 programs, White said. Section 8 is an income-qualified program that allows families to pay no more than 30 percent of their income toward rent, according to White.
But even establishing an authority that only administers Section 8 "would be a large comprehensive undertaking," White said.
There is limited funding in the voucher program, and the "only way a new housing authority would even be able to support a voucher program is if a neighboring housing authority donates vouchers," she said.
The next step in proceeding with the citizens' request is the verification of names and addresses of those who signed the petition, said Mark Barnebey, city attorney.
A housing authority is not required within cities unless a need for one is determined. Such need may be determined through the city's governing body, a petition signed by at least 25 residents, a resolution, and a shortage of safe or sanitary housing.
"When you have slum and blight and unsanitary conditions in the city, it's a mandate for you to act," Smith said.
"I think this is for the working people, I think that they deserve something decent," said Cesar A. Garcia, a Palmetto resident and a pastor at Full Gospel Holiness Church of Samoset, who signed the petition. "I see people who live in bad conditions. ... I think somebody has got to do something."
Some businesses might be deterred from going into Palmetto because it lacks affordable housing for its employees, said Smith.
"Economically it's a win, business-wise it's a win," he said.
There are neighborhoods in Palmetto with properties in declining condition, Smith said. A housing authority would be able to purchase those properties, then rehabilitate and convert them into affordable rental units, he said.
"We need something in place for those who want a hand up in their lives, not a handout," said Smith.
Miriam Valverde, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @MiriamValverde.