Making housing more affordable for the average Manatee County worker remains a stubborn problem.
Earlier this year, the Manatee Chamber of Commerce made a run at a solution by establishing the Attainable Housing Task Force.
Essentially, it’s a problem of dollars. The average annual salary for line employees is $43,776.83, which means those workers should be able to afford a $145,900 house.
Big problem: The countywide median sales price in Manatee County is approximately $300,000, according to the Realtor Association of Sarasota and Manatee.
Renters also feel the pain. The average renter can afford about $1,100 a month, but the average rent in Bradenton is $1,245 for a two-bedroom apartment, according to the Manatee Chamber.
Nearly one in five Manatee County households pays more than half of its gross income for housing. The rule of thumb is that no more than one-third should be budgeted to housing.
The scarcity of affordable housing hits workers and employers equally in the public and private sectors. Many companies say their greatest problem is finding and retaining skilled workers. The rising price of housing continues to outstrip wage growth.
In November, the housing task force appointed two focus groups, one drawn from real estate and financial services, and the other from planning, building and development.
Their assignment was to prioritize strategies to address barriers and get those strategies implemented, said Michael Gallen, the chamber’s vice president for public policy and small business.
The chamber unveiled the findings of the two focus groups at a wrap-up event on Monday:
Priorities selected by a vote of the real estate and financial services work group included:
- Incentivizing purchase and renovation of homes in existing neighborhoods.
- Allowing a variety of infill housing types in existing neighborhoods.
- Seeking additional alternative funding types and coordinating incentives across jurisdictions.
Priorities selected by the planning, building and development work group included:
- Supporting higher densities where appropriate.
- Allowing more design flexibility when working in existing neighborhoods and urban areas.
- Exploring best practices that decrease regulatory costs, recognizing that time is a cost.
This is just the beginning, not the end of the chamber’s effort to help find solutions, Gallen said.
The task force meets in January to discuss the results, meets again in March to refine strategies, and makes a presentation to cities and the county in March.
Geri Campos Lopez, director of redevelopment and economic opportunity for Manatee County government, is one of the government officials who has taken an active role in the chamber initiative.
“Wages haven’t been keeping up with the cost of housing. That’s a real issue for the work force population,” she said. “It’s a very complex problem.
Sharon Hillstrom, president and CEO of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp., works to attract businesses that pay higher-than-average salaries to the community, and to assist local businesses in growing their workforce.
It’s not unusual to hear that the scarcity of affordable housing is a challenge for employees, she said.
Gallen is hopeful that the strategies identified in the year-long study could begin to remedy the problem.
“If we could implement these strategies, there is an opportunity to move the needle,” Gallen said.
In the mix are potential dollars from documentary stamp revenues collected under the William E. Sadowski Affordable Housing Act, created by the Florida Legislature in 1992.
Also ripe for discussion are housing programs that bridge governmental jurisdictions and the exploration of accessory dwelling units, often called called ADUs. An ADU is a secondary housing unit, such as a mother-in-law apartment.
Generating a lot of discussion in recent years is Robin’s Apartments, named after former Manatee County Commissioner Robin DiSabatino.
The former Knights Inn at First Street East, south of U.S. 301, opened two years ago after being converted from a motel into a 130-room apartment complex.
“We have to look at what has worked in the past and what we can emulate,” Gallen said of efforts to change the erosion of affordable housing.