MANATEE -- While not responsible for building housing, Manatee County government's role is to create an environment that is conducive for the private sector to produce affordable housing, a state housing official told commissioners Tuesday.
Local governments, which are obligated to provide housing for its entire current and anticipated population under Florida statute, can help through land use planning, permitting, financing and affordability assurances, according to Jaimie Ross, president/CEO of the Florida Housing Coalition.
"The intent of the statute is the local government creating an environment in which the private sector is going to be able to build affordable housing," Ross said at Tuesday's commission work session titled "All Things Housing." "Local government has the big-picture element, but it isn't that you are out there building the housing."
While Tuesday's work session was focused on the state program, two work sessions planned for February and March will focus on other areas of housing. The three-part series is intended to help commissioners get their thoughts together as they prepare to work on the upcoming budget, whether to spend money for housing and what to spend the money on, County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said.
Cheri Coryea, the county's neighborhood services department director, said they set up the series so the commission will be on the same page and be able to make future directives to staff.
"We felt that this has risen to a priority level that it would be helpful for all the commissioners to hear from some of the experts in the field," Coryea said. "It is our goal to keep you informed, engaged and also to provide you with what you need."
Local land use planning and zoning codes have the ability to either make or break affordable housing, Ross told commissioners.
"As a local government through land use and zoning, you can either set the table so it is easy for the private sector to come in or can put up obstacles," she said. "It is really within your power to do one or the other."
Commissioner Betsy Benac said while the county's Land Development Code has a lot of tools in it, it doesn't mean the tools are necessarily being used.
"It's one thing to have the tools," she said. "It's another thing to have developers and folks that actually utilize the tools to create housing that is more affordable."
Through state and local housing trust funds, $175 million was appropriated to housing in fiscal year 2015-16, of which $1.6 million was allocated to Manatee County, including the cities. Manatee County is projected to receive $3.9 million in fiscal year 2016-17.
Commissioner Charles Smith said he's heard from developers about how difficult it is to develop affordable housing in Manatee County with no plan.
"In the unincorporated area, there is a great shortage of affordable housing," he said. "City of Palmetto and Bradenton can't keep up with affordable housing."
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.