Young workers challenged to speak out on housing

MANATEE -- Young workers and professionals who want to see more affordable housing built near urban centers are going to have to ask for it.

This is the advice county planning officials gave a group of young professionals Thursday while talking affordable housing, workforce housing and a general desire for dense, walkable urban development.

Meeting with the Bradenton Chamber of Commerce's Manatee Young Professional, planners and members of the county's Neighborhood Services department worked their way through a housing wish list just as the county finishes reorganizing its land development code. The county will eventually undertake a second phase of changes to the code that will address its substantive content.

John Osborne, the county's planning and zoning official, told a few dozen of the young professionals that the code is somewhat out of date. It was written in the late 1980s, when county residents desired suburban developments and homes on large lots to address these needs, but made few provisions for high-density, high-rise urban-urban style housing young workers could afford. Those provisions can be made, but it will require a significant overhaul of the code.

"That's a big deal change for us," Osborne said.

He encouraged members of the young professionals to voice their preferences at county commission meetings and upcoming public meetings addressing the development code.

With the median rental rate for a two-bedroom apartment in Manatee County sitting

near $970 a month, part of the housing problem for younger workers is price. Danielle Walker, a planning department intern who co-led the housing discussion, said that while there are cheaper rentals, they tend not to be near downtown areas in Bradenton, Palmetto and Lakewood Ranch and are less appealing to young renters.

To bring high-density, low-rent housing projects to those areas, developers need incentives in the county's planning regulations, said Ben Bakker, a Realtor and president of the Manatee Young professionals. That, he said, would include allowing for the intensity and density developers require to make housing cash flow.

"They need to make money," Bakker said.

Bakker said the county also needs to take steps to include millennials in the planning process. He said placing millennials on the county's planning commission would be a good first step.

"The next time there is an opening for county planning commission, maybe take the less experienced, less knowledgeable millennial to get that age range represented," he said.

Housing developers are watching the ongoing workforce housing conversation. Lloyd Hinson Jr., president of development consulting firm Foster Pointe, attended Thursday's lunch. He said if those developers hear from enough people who want workforce housing, it will give them the confidence to start buying land and building once the code accommodates such projects.

"This is the next group that's going to need housing," Hinton said. "If you keep speaking, that bell will ring and they'll take action.

Clear standards written for high-density, workforce housing would help speed projects to development and prevent conflicting land uses, Osborne said.