Affordable and fair housing issues continue to bedevil Manatee County as recent developments once again show. Both Bradenton and Palmetto are struggling with housing headaches, too. The affordable housing shortage is only worsening as both land and tenant rent prices rise, roadblocks that communities throughout Florida are contending with as the economy strengthens and the population grows.
Strategies to increase the stock of affordable and workforce housing remain elusive. The county offers a long list of incentives to encourage development, but communities around the state do, too, so Manatee does not hold exclusive advantages. More and different incentives are vital, as the county’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee discussed this week. The panel is charged with analyzing county codes to uncover impediments to the development of attainable housing.
Indeed, greater densities per acre are one new avenue, allowing additional residential units and making projects more cost effective, as county commissioners well know. Other county officials are certainly aware of the need for unique incentives. Perhaps bargain-basement prices on the county’s surplus land that is buildable would be one.
The advisory committee also came up with other incentive ideas, including cutbacks on parking requirements, but the overarching suggestion brings up a host of debatable points. Andy Reasoner, one of the committee members, pushed the notion of creating an affordable housing trust fund — without money from the state or federal governments.
“The more I read there are not solutions to this that aren’t painful,” he told the gathering. “At the end of the day, it is going to hurt somebody to spend the money to help make this happen. It won’t happen without more money.”
Reasoner is talking about a trust fund with “some serious money” but from a funding source “that I think everyone can participate in relatively painlessly.”
A property tax increase would not be met kindly. The county is already strapped for cash with current revenue and a budget deficit looming.
Would county residents support an affordable housing tax? Reasoner put that into the discussion.
Should that idea gain traction in the future, we’ll find out. There’s no disputing the shortage of affordable housing, an issue that demands novel solutions. The committee faces an ambitious task.
When the deplorable living conditions at Bayside Villas burst into public view a month ago, claims that Manatee County does not enforce fair housing rules arose. Those residents receiving federal rental assistance are entitled to fair housing protections, but the county defers to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for enforcement under Manatee’s Fair Housing Ordinance, adopted in 2012. The ordinance states “the board of county commissoners desires to eliminate duplication” with HUD efforts.
That injustice left low-income residents without a quick-response team to turn to with complaints of bias, unwarranted eviction notices, inadequate repairs and landlord intimidation.
Last week, commissioners approved the Assessment of Fair Housing Plan and will send that document to HUD for review — over the objections of the lone dissenting commissioner on the vote. Charles Smith argued the plan was toothless on enforcement, and apparently that is mostly true. One county official said the plan identifies “this as an issue that this (Fair Housing) ordinance is lacking, that we need to look at what teeth we need to add.”
The county’s old fair housing plans, developed in 2005 and 2010, did not hold Manatee as accountable as HUD expects. An updated ordinance must have enforcement teeth.
Sen. Marco Rubio jumped into the Bayside Villas fray by calling on Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to investigate the housing project. Once Rubio found out about the complaints a few weeks earlier via Herald reports and other sources, he reached out to county officials to learn more about Bayside Villas. Florida’s junior senator introduced legislation in September designed to improve federal housing inspections and hold slumlords accountable.
Kudos to Rubio for coming to the aid of exasperated Manatee County residents who are standing up to mistreatment.