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Manatee Leaders Meet To Discuss County's Affordable Housing Crunch

Downtown Bradenton in Manatee County.
Manatee County Government
Downtown Bradenton in Manatee County.

Housing prices and rents continue to rise across Florida. Thursday, a group of community leaders and advocates gathered in Bradenton to discuss Manatee County's ongoing affordable housing crunch at an event sponsored by the Manatee Tiger Bay Club.

Nationwide, an average wage earner would need to spend 32.7 percent of his or her income to buy a median-priced home. But for Manatee residents, that figure is 46.3 percent.

Denise Thomas is the Housing and Community Development Coordinator for Manatee County. She said the spectrum of affordable housing covers a large area, from the homeless to millennials and seniors.

“Everyone is impacted in one way or another about affordable housing,” she said. “When we look at the cost of housing based off of information from the Sarasota-Manatee Realtors Association, we see the cost for a single family home on average, the median sale price in 2017 was $295,000, and in 2018, it went up to $305,000.”

During her speech, Thomas called upon the Florida Legislature to fully fund the state's affordable housing trust fund, also known as the Sadowski fund.

For years, lawmakers have diverted money from the trust for other purposes.

"For many individuals who purchase homes, even our middle income, moderate income, they seek down payment assistance. Well guess where those funds come from," she asked. "It's the state."

The State Housing Initiatives Partnership Program, known as SHIP, allocates money to Florida's counties for affordable housing programs. Thomas said last year, Manatee was eligible to receive $3 million. Instead, the county got just over $500,000. 

Currently, the proposed Florida Senate budget has allocated full funding for the Sadowski affordable housing trust. The House version does not.

Another solution to Manatee’s housing crisis was advanced by Glen Gibellina of the county's Affordable Housing Advisory Board.

The retired general contractor teaches students at Bradenton's Bayshore High School how to build homes out of shipping containers.

He says the project was inspired by the need to provide shelter for homeless and at-risk students.

"They have no support,” he said. “They're either living in their car, living in the woods, or they're couch surfing and that's no way to get an education."

Gibellina says the shipping container homes would qualify as an "accessory dwelling unit,” which would permit construction of smaller, secondary homes on the same lot as a primary residence.

“They could be set in the backyards of parents or concerned citizens within walking distance of the high school," he said. "Put it in the neighborhood where they can walk to school. Right now we bus them from all over the county and it costs us thousands of dollars in transportation to get that kid to the school that he belongs to. That's got to change and it's not that hard."

Accessory dwelling units were approved by the county's Planning Board last week. The Manatee County Commission will take up the ordinance in May.

Currently, the county allows guest houses that can be attached or separated from the owner’s home but they cannot include a kitchen. Accessory dwelling units allow for a kitchen. The apartments can be up to 80 percent of the main residence’s square footage or 1,000 square feet, whichever is less.

During the forum, Adell Erozer of the organization Turning Points, highlighted the latest findings of the United Way of Florida’s annual ALICE report. According to the latest data, 44% of Manatee households are at-risk of homelessness. She said the agency, which provides employment services, rental and utility assistance, and free medical and dental care for the uninsured, is seeing an increase in need from Manatee’ County's elderly population.  

“We're starting to see a lot more of those people who are living on fixed incomes and don't have any kind of rent stabilized housing that they can get into,” she said. “As the Great Recession took a lot of people's savings away, it also cut into the reserves that they have for emergencies. What we're finding is that a lot of these people just can't afford the increases in rent in our area.”

There is some positive movement on adding affordable housing units in Manatee. On May 2, the County Commission will consider plans for Oaks at Creekside, an apartment complex proposed for Bradenton and Maple Ridge, a subdivision of single-family homes slated for Palmetto.

Manatee’s Planning Commission have already approved both projects.

The county's housing crunch is happening admist a growing population. According to the latest census data Manatee’s population has increased from 385,450 as of July 1, 2017, to 394,855 on July 1, 2018.

You can read WUSF's series "Growing Unaffordable" HERE.

As a reporter, my goal is to tell a story that moves you in some way. To me, the best way to do that begins with listening. Talking to people about their lives and the issues they care about is my favorite part of the job.
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