When it comes to meeting the needs of Manatee County’s low- and moderate-income residents, the county has fallen short on many of the strategies established to provide affordable housing and reduce homelessness, a report shows.
But as county officials prepare the 2017-22 Five-Year Consolidated Plan, which is required because the county receives federal funding, the county commission is hoping it will be different this time.
“Let’s put some teeth into this for a change,” Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said Thursday during a work session about the consolidated plan. “Let’s put some money into this for a change. Let’s do something. ...We have an obligation to do something about it. Let’s stop taking about it and do something for a change.”
As the county develops the plan before submitting it to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development by Aug. 15, the county commission is hearing some of the priorities the community has identified, including community development/infrastructure, social/public services and housing, especially fair housing.
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We have an obligation to do something about it. Let’s stop taking about it and do something for a change.
Vanessa Baugh, Manatee County Commissioner
The plan’s goals will be developed around the priorities, according to Geri Lopez, the county’s redevelopment and economic opportunity director.
“In the previous plans, we have had too many of them,” she said. “It is really looking at less of them so we can concentrate our dollars to be specific to addressing those needs.”
While the exact amount of federal funding the county will get is still unknown, Manatee County has typically received around $1.6 million in Community Development Block Grants per year. The county also receives HOME Investment Partnerships and Emergency Solutions Grant funds.
“As the challenge has always been, we just need more funds to address, to make an impact,” said Denise Thomas, the county’s housing and community development manager. “We are not able to serve everything that comes forward because the need is so great in Manatee County.”
Commissioner Charles Smith echoed Thomas.
“There are so many needs with not much money,” he said. “It’s going to take a commitment from this board to redirect some funds because you can’t get all your help from the federal government. If you don’t have any matching money, you can’t do much of anything when talking about housing. ...This is really a good program and it’s going to take us, this commission and the county administrator, to give you guys some teeth, some money.”
With an additional funding source in the half-cent infrastructure sales tax, the revenue could be used to pay for certain infrastructure items such as sidewalks and street lighting, Commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac said.
“We are going to have a different picture,” she said. “We need to look very closely at this different funding picture to make sure our housing dollars go further. It can’t all be federal government, but it can’t be all local government, either. ...This is an opportunity to focus on housing.”
The five-year Consolidated Plan, which is a blueprint for the county to make decisions over the next five years, is a continuation of the county’s Assessment of Fair Housing Plan, which was approved by HUD on Feb. 23, according to Jason Smith, a consultant with Wade Trim.
“The main purpose of Consolidated Plan is to identify what community goals and needs are specifically related to community development and housing,” he said. “We are held accountable on an annual basis by HUD on how we spend our funding.”
The county needs to keep the focus on fair housing, Smith said, adding that the goals identified in the Assessment of Fair Housing Plan were all aimed to address discriminatory housing practices.
Pointing to plans developed in Manatee County that have never been implemented, Smith said he hopes it won’t be the case with this plan.
“I’m praying that this will move forward,” he said. “We’ve got a serious problem because so many people want to improve quality of life for their children. They are looking at us to produce now.”