By Josh Salman via Herald Tribune
SARASOTA COUNTY – Just days after a new report echoed the critical need for more affordable housing in Southwest Florida, Sarasota County commissioners released a real estate developer from obligations to build hundreds of such units.
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The county commission voted 3-1 to allow the developers of Palmer Place in East Sarasota to reduce their affordable housing obligation from 50 percent of the 600-home project to just 15 percent. The new agreement creates 100 new affordable housing units, instead of about 300.
Affordable housing, by the numbers:
• 43,127 low-income households in Sarasota County are dedicating more than 30 percent of their incomes for housing, the maximum amount considered affordable by experts.
• Nearly half of those struggling families are spending 50 percent of their earnings just to keep a roof over their heads.
• Low-income renters in Sarasota County who are severely cost burdened have increased 12 percentage points since the start of the Great Recession.
Commissioners altered their comprehensive plan and land regulations Tuesday through a 3-1 decision that will allow the developer of a planned residential community in East Sarasota to reduce the requirements tied to affordable housing from 50 percent of the project to 15 percent.
The vote strips away as many as 200 homes considered affordable to average area residents at a time when experts estimate that the area already is thousands of units short of meeting demand.
“I’m concerned we are creating a bad precedent, with developers trying to buy their way out of affordable housing,” said Commissioner Christine Robinson, who cast the lone dissenting vote. “Affordable housing is difficult. It’s not fiscally neutral. We all have to shoulder the costs.”
The 412-acre development, east of the Palmer Boulevard and Iona Road intersection, is slated for 600 homes.
To gain approval to build east of the urban service boundary — a line that historically dictated where development could and could not happen — the developer agreed to earmark as many as 60 percent of those homes for affordable housing.
The deal created a special district dubbed “Affordable Housing Overlay.”
That was during the last housing bubble, when need for such units was as great as it is today.
But in the years that followed, the economy slumped and talk of affordable housing took a backseat as home prices sank to record lows.