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Affordable housing hits close to home for these Manatee leaders. Here are their ideas

What is affordable housing in Manatee and who is it for?

Denise Thomas, Manatee County's housing and community development manager, explains the need for affordable housing and how the local government is leveraging tax credits from the state to sell homes as cheap as $175,00 in Bradenton.
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Denise Thomas, Manatee County's housing and community development manager, explains the need for affordable housing and how the local government is leveraging tax credits from the state to sell homes as cheap as $175,00 in Bradenton.

Sobering statistics revealed at a Thursday afternoon forum highlight the affordable housing crisis in Manatee County.

The average sales price for a single-family home now exceeds $300,000, over 5,000 homes in the area sit vacant and more than 400 families have asked Manatee Habitat for Humanity for assistance in buying a home. The result could be a community that forces the low-income workforce to live elsewhere.

“For every need, there must be a solution, and fortunately, we have a few folks that are working on that,” said Matt Bowers, the vice president of Manatee Tiger Bay.

A group of community leaders and activists gathered were invited to speak on the issue at the Manatee Tiger Bay Club’s monthly luncheon. Possible solutions and ideas ranged from making housing developers pay taxes that would funnel into an affordable housing fund and forming a unified coalition of resources.

“What I see is that there’s a lot of resources in this community that people could be using, but they’re all doing their own thing,” said Adell Erozer, executive director of Turning Points. “My solution that I would like to see is that we as a community has one organization that has one entity responsible for housing in the community.

Community activist Glen Gibellina voiced his concern over the findings of the recent ALICE report that indicated 44 percent of Manatee residents struggle to keep up with the cost of living.

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Manatee County redevelopment and economic opportunity officials briefed the Board of County Commissioners on their affordable housing efforts at a workshop on Tuesday. This Bradenton home leveraged tax credits from the state and was sold for less than $175,000, they said. Manatee County Government

“I speak for the citizens that aren’t able to make it here today,” he said. “They’re probably working two jobs and don’t have the discretionary $35 to come and be heard.”

The rising cost of homes is a real problem, Gibellina said, and one that won’t be solved overnight. He pitched his idea to launch an affordable housing tax of $100 or $500 that would be applied to the building permit for Manatee developers.

The Palmetto CRA will build and own its first mixed use housing and commercial development in downtown.

“Drastic times call for drastic measures and everyone needs to step up to the plate,” said Gibellina.

The goal of affordable housing is to leverage partnerships and tax credits from the state to cap the price of certain homes and rental units, providing workers with low income a place to stay. Some of those efforts result in apartments that can be rented for $800 a month or homes that cost around $175,000.

Through a community survey, Vallerie Guillory, founder of Trinity Without Borders, learned that there are about 5,500 homes throughout the county that aren’t being lived in. Her nonprofit has found that “rent increases can and do render (our clients) homeless again.”

Financial experts recommend spending about 30 percent of your income on housing, but according to Diana Shoemaker, the executive director of Manatee Habitat for Humanity, many people can’t afford to stick to that limit in this area.

“When the cost of a home jeopardizes your families future, the cost is too high. You may not be personally struggling with these choices, but we know that others are,” Shoemaker told the crowd.

Manatee County Habitat for Humanity is raising money to build its fourth multi-unit affordable housing development. Bradenton Herald Mark Young

Those others include professions that residents rely on more often than they think. Denise Thomas, the county’s housing and community development manager, ran through a list of jobs with starting salaries that make living in the area difficult, including school teachers, nurses and police officers.

“The next time you hear about affordable housing, don’t ask what is affordable housing but who is affordable housing (for)?” Thomas said.

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The Oaks at Creekside apartment complex along State Road 70 is one of six affordable housing initiatives working their way through Manatee County's approval process. Provided photo

During a Q&A session, Thomas responded to a guest’s suggestion that the county should use surplus land or empty buildings that need to be renovated to create new affordable initiatives. Those buildings, like the First Union building at the corner of Ninth Street West and Manatee Avenue West, need serious work before they can be used for housing, she said.

“It’s easy to say you’ll acquire a building but you have to look at the conditions, and if the building isn’t healthy or if there aren’t parking spaces, then you can’t use it,” Thomas explained. “Sometimes it’s better to tear it down and rebuild than try to fix it.”

Thomas and Geri Lopez, the county’s director of redevelopment and economic opportunity, briefed the Board of County Commissioners on their affordable housing efforts at a workshop on Tuesday. There are six affordable housing projects, representing about 400 new units, working their way through the pipeline, they said.

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