When Planning and Community Development Director Catherine Hartley was first hired in April, she listed the lack of affordable housing in the city as a major challenge to address.
In her first interview with the Bradenton Herald in May, Hartley said, “It’s absolutely something we need to tackle.” And now she is trying to do just that by focusing on the codes that make affordable housing development more difficult than it needs to be.
Beginning in November, the city council will begin a series of workshops to streamline codes to make it easier. She also wants to create incentive programs for not only affordable housing developers, but to help low-income families purchase and renovate vacant homes within the city as part of an infill development program.
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Affordable housing standards under federal and state guidelines are income-based, so Hartley would like to see the city push toward a possible home buying assistance program using existing grant programs like the community development block grant and State Housing Initiative Partnership program.
“There are a palette of objectives we can choose from and narrow the focus down in the next few years,” she said.
For new affordable housing developments, the city is looking closely at what Manatee County is doing. The county reappointed 11 members to its affordable housing advisory board. In September, the committee began looking at the county’s codes in the same way the city will now do.
The best thing we can do to keep housing costs down is to make the city of Bradenton the easiest place in Manatee County to do business.
Ward 4 Councilman Bemis Smith
Ward 4 Councilman Bemis Smith said the city should monitor how the county is progressing, “because traditionally we’ve been the dumping ground when the county wants to do something that isn’t popular with the citizens. The city carries a large percentage of affordable housing in Manatee County.”
Smith said he supports an incentive program, but it should focus on attracting businesses.
“I would support some type of rent credits for businesses to give their employees to attract millennials downtown,” Smith said. “The best thing we can do to keep housing costs down is to make the city of Bradenton the easiest place in Manatee County to do business.”
It’s no secret that Bradenton and the county are garnering a lot of interest for both business and housing, but the codes are at the heart of preventing some of that from happening, according to Mayor Wayne Poston.
“I talked to a developer and an architect this week who have never built in Bradenton, but are interested and have heard good things,” Poston said. “But it was interesting that even though I talked to them separately, they both had the same question of, ‘Is the permit process smooth?’ That’s one of their keys in the decision making process.”
Hartley said part of streamlining the process for infill development would be for the city to purchase house plans that already comply with form base codes. Hartley said the city could purchase those plans for $1,200 and save families thousands of dollars in hiring a designer. She said, all too often, that a family will tell an architect what they want, and the design will be based on those desires, only to find out they don’t meet code requirements.
“It’s a waste of money. We could buy those house plans that are ready to go so people don’t have to navigate our standards,” Hartley said. “They could come in and choose a house plan, not hire a designer and substantially expedite the process.”
We have a lot of incentive programs, but I wouldn’t say they have been laser focused in the past.
City Administrator Carl Callahan
For larger developments, she said the process could be easily streamlined.
“Someone comes for a pre-application meeting, then they have to go to the development review committee and staff is waiting there to give comments,” Hartley said. “We need to have comments ready when they come in the door for a DRC meeting, to make sure reviewing agencies have time before it goes to a public hearing.”
City administrator Carl Callahan said knowledge between departments would be another key to expedite the permit process. He said each department is good at what they do, but it was time to expand the knowledge base from department to department, “as opposed to passing the buck and tell people, ‘Someone else does that.’”
Callahan also supports Hartley’s incentive-based proposals.
“We have a lot of incentive programs, but I wouldn’t say they have been laser focused in the past,” he said. “Are those programs focusing on what you perceive is important that you want to get done, or driven by other means? We haven’t done that as good as it could be done.”