Habitat for Humanity works to create more affordable housing in Manatee
Manatee - Shambria Smith wanted to have a place for her children to call home. As a single mother, the 26-year-old said it was a struggle to find a place she could afford in Manatee County.
“The ones that were affordable had a waiting list,” said Smith, who works at United Cerebral Palsy.
This past June, Smith became Manatee County Habitat for Humanity’s 125th homeowner when she moved into her Palmetto home with her daughters, 5-year-old Reniya and 3-year-old Paris.
“I am home and this is my house for me and my children,” said Smith, who helped build her home.
Now, Smith said she wants to volunteer with Habitat to help provide other families with stable housing.
“The way I felt, I would love to give to someone else,” she said.
Habitat knows they have the families who need permanent affordable housing, but the demand continues to outpace the supply, said Diana Shoemaker, the nonprofit’s executive director.
“We know we have the families,” she said. “That’s not the problem. It’s all these resources to have the corporate contributions and the donor contributions to fund the house construction of it.”
Programs such as the Community Contribution Tax Credit Program, which allows businesses to reinvest their tax dollars into their community for affordable housing, help Habitat fund construction costs. Access to land on a more regular basis would also help, Shoemaker said.
The tax credit program was an incentive for Bealls, which participated in the program for Smith’s house as part of its Centennial Celebration.
“We were able to provide hundreds of hours and got a sizable tax credit for doing it,” said Bill Webster, Bealls’ director of public and government affairs. “It was beneficial for us, but mostly it was beneficial for the community. You can either pay it to Tallahassee or you can pay it to Habitat. We decided we much rather support our hometown by doing it that way than throwing in with other tax payments. It is a great program.”
While Habitat has enough property now to build for all the families in the queue right now, there are more than 150 families waiting to even have a conversation about a Habitat home, Shoemaker said.
“They haven’t applied yet,” she said. “These are people that want to talk to us about affordable housing. We just can’t keep the people on the waiting list for that long. These are people waiting to have this conversation about stable, decent, affordable housing.”
Habitat is now looking at its model from a neighborhood revitalization perspective, focusing on infill development and looking at trying to create a greater density, Shoemaker said.
“We are trying to shift our model to make sure that we address more families and I think we are just looking for the partnerships to help us do that,” she said.
Focus shifts to city of Bradenton
For the next 18 months to two years, Manatee County Habitat for Humanity will be working in the city of Bradenton around McKechnie Field. The nonprofit plans to add eight homes to the area, which was made possible with a Community Development Block Grant through the city coupled with the nonprofit’s own funds.
“It is going to be infill,” Shoemaker said. “It happens to be in the same area, which really helps the city because it addresses the city’s needs to build in this area for affordable housing. It also helps us because we are sort of congregated in the same area with our building.”
Work is already underway on one of the homes on 17th Avenue West and the foundation should be laid this month, according to Shoemaker.
“For us, the conversation is with the city about how can we address the affordable housing requirements that they have while also meeting the form-based code requirements,” she said. “That’s the conversation we are having now with them to make sure we build up to code but also to build as many homes as we can in the area to address as many families as we can.”
Habitat is hoping that the investment they are making in the section of Bradenton in the next couple years could spur others to want to also revitalize the neighborhood, said Amy Van Dell, Habitat’s resource development manager.
“So if other people say, ‘Well jeez this neighborhood is coming up. I’m going to fix my house up,’” she said. “Hopefully it will raise all boats by Habitat making its investment there.”
Pointing to the groundbreaking for the homes, it is already happening, Shoemaker said.
“We are already starting to see the community come together and have interest and investment in the fact that Habitat is going to be there,” she said.
County to continue affordable housing discussion
A state-mandated advisory board tasked with reviewing Manatee County codes for any barriers to developing affordable housing in Manatee County will get to work at 3 p.m. Monday.
“It is basically to go over what their responsibility is, which is to review the Land Development Code and Comprehensive Plan regarding housing elements to determine if there are any barriers to affordable housing or any other types of incentives we need to look at to further or enhance affordable housing,” said Denise Thomas, the county’s housing and community development coordinator. “It is kind of a coordinated effort basically providing recommendations to Board of County Commissioners of things we can consider. We have a very diverse board.”
On Tuesday, the county commission will wrap its “All Things Housing” work session series when they will hear staff recommendations based on what has been said at previous work sessions, according to Thomas.
In addition to recommendations, the board will also hear about some barriers that currently exist, Thomas said.
“Some of the things that might currently hinder us being able to move forward and what needs to change or has to change,” she said.
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Segregated housing in Manatee: ‘Criminal’ Conditions
Didi Hager has never received a call from someone who has felt discriminated when trying to find housing in Manatee County. Yet the family services manager at Manatee County Habitat for Humanity has seen rental units that are “absolutely deplorable.”
During home visits for Habitat for Humanity, Hager has met with tenants paying upwards of $900 a month for places with no air conditioners, broken refrigerators and mold in the shower.
“In my estimation, it is criminal what these landlords are charging for places that are falling down around them,” she said. “They don’t qualify for a conventional mortgage and they are just exploited by landlords that know they have to have a place to live and can charge whatever they want to charge.”
These units are often segregated in certain parts of the county such as Oneco and Samoset.
“There are sections that are more segregated than others,” she said. “I do think that is a problem.”
As a way to identify barriers to fair housing, county officials are developing a plan for “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” in Manatee. Fair housing means protecting “people from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability and familial status,” according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“It is going to include achievable tasks that we are going to be able to handle as a county government structure,” said Denise Thomas, the county’s housing and community development coordinator. “We can make an impact and make a difference and that is what we are trying to do.”
Areas along the urban core, both north and south of the Manatee River, are distinctly segregated in Manatee County, according to Bill O’Shea, project manager in the community development division of the county’s neighborhood services department.
“We have segregation of low-income people and housing, and the whole idea is that no matter what income level or race, you should have the same opportunity as anybody that has a higher income,” he said. “You are entitled to that under fair housing.”
Unlike previous fair housing plans that the county developed in 2005 and 2010, Manatee County will be held more accountable by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which requires the plan for the county to receive Community Development Block Grant funding.
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