Special Reports

Tackling the housing issue from all angles

Blame it on the big, bad business community, frazzled politicians, migratory retirees, baby boomers, workers, families, a stable/unstable economy, personal choice, "unexpected" growth, lavish land uses and, above all, the weather.

Housing is the premium topic at the barbershop, coffee house and kitchen table and has spilled out into every area of community discourse. Unfortunately, there is a general attitude that tends to lump everything under "rooftops," thereby ignoring the very specialized nature of human living or working space. Certainly being adjacent to vacant, unused land is preferable to some folks, but so is productivity. Empty space may not gobble up resources or blow around in hurricanes, but it doesn't provide safe harbor for families, either.

When it comes to analyzing human needs, one size simply does not fit all, nor does one carefully aimed insulting remark cover every problem in meeting those needs. Lakewood Ranch, for example, is a place (and a nice one at that) and not the major cause of crowded roads. It's people, not places, people with vehicles, some of whom live in other areas, who create traffic.

Ironically, a lot of things occurred simultaneously. During the current spate of high population growth, the economy flourished but some housing efforts didn't. Risk-takers were rewarded. Many amateurs jumped into real estate investments with visions of flipping for the big bucks. Blaming builders and developers, political fingers were pointed in the wrong direction by people who had no compass. Actually, business professionals are our potential problem solvers, along with builders, growers, lawyers, bankers, retirees and citizens seeking a culture of ever expanding opportunity. "Just tell us what you want!" they cry, "and no surprises."

Here we were in 2004, a time of plenty, with a shortage of houses to accommodate our workforce as well as a dearth of transitional housing or shelter for the homeless. Reality emerged rapidly when the housing market dipped. It was over coffee one morning that Dr. Russ Kitching and I discussed the "big picture" with a thousand angles. The picture required focus. We needed something to jump-start public/private dialogue, to jump-start housing opportunities. Thus was born Jumpstart Foundation, a not-for-profit organization made possible through a stellar cast of charter members and board of directors. The modest brochure reads: "Jumpstart paves the way. During boom times or down times, a community must be prepared to endure over the long stretch. Economies are cyclical, markets are volatile. Needs are constant!"

Public/private membership is wide open and committed to increasing workforce housing inventory and accessibility, building trust in the business community, influencing sound government policy, eliminating blight and establishing an information forum. A conference including representatives from The Urban Land Institute is planned for May, according to Stan Stephens, Jumpstart chairman, and Cheri Coryea, Manatee County human services director. The subject will be "density." Look here for more information in the coming weeks.

We are all aware that "housing" cannot be separated from "high cost," including everything from taxes, impact fees, labor, building materials, insurance and yes, weather. But, good, productive meetings require focus and clarity of purpose, one headache at a time.

Pat Glass, just-retired from political office after almost three decades as Manatee County commissioner, writes every Wednesday to Herald readers about key issues and concerns with her unique insights. To reach her write to her c/o Bradenton Herald Metro Desk, 102 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton, FL 34205.