Special Reports

Trust urged to find affordable housing

SARASOTA - With the ultimate goal of creating 3,000 affordable housing units by 2016, the Community Housing Trust of Sarasota County knows it is facing an uphill battle.

But before the organization spends millions of dollars building new affordable housing units, Sarasota County Commissioner Joe Barbetta said he believes the Community Housing Trust should turn its attention to buying existing homes.

"We can start addressing affordable housing as soon as tomorrow," Barbetta said during Wednesday's commission meeting. "If you look in today's paper, I can show you 50 homes that are probably less than $200,000 that we could buy."

There is no need to continue to construct developments such as University Place on University Parkway to provide people with an affordable place to live, Barbetta said.

"There are buyers out there, and there are homeowners willing to sell," Barbetta said. "All we have to do is look."

Martina Guilfoil, chief executive officer for the Community Housing Trust, said the organization is considering all avenues for affordable housing.

Since the organization began last year, it has already been awarded a $5 million grant that will create 68 work force housing units and has raised $1 million from local banks to fund a homebuyer downpayment assistance program. Guilfoil said the housing trust also has worked with various developers, such as the Benderson Development Co., to include affordable housing in their planned projects.

The trust believes these future developments will add more than 1,000 new affordable units to the market within the next few years.

While County Commissioner Paul Mercier said he appreciated the need for affordable housing in Sarasota, he agreed with Barbetta that building "affordable housing communities" may not be the best approach.

Mercier said he is concerned these communities may promote the labeling of their residents as low- to moderate-income individuals, instead of developing a positive neighborhood.

"I don't know if that's the right way to do it," Mercier said, as the commission instructed county officials to meet with the housing trust to discuss investing more in existing homes. "I think this is a more aggressive approach."

County Commissioner Jon Thaxton said the county needs to start thinking smarter when it comes to affordable housing.

Just this week, Thaxton described his own problems with trying to maintain rental property that qualifies as affordable housing under the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department.

"It is way below market and it feels good to offer affordable housing," Thaxton said. "But I'm going to put an end to it now because it takes me eight months and two weeks of rental income just to pay my taxes. That leaves three months and two weeks to pay the mortgage payments. It is a formula that only an idiot would do."

Stacey Eidson, Herald reporter, can be reached at seidson@HeraldToday.com or at 708-7908.