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Affordable housing at forefront in Manatee County

IMG 1409Manatee - The type of affordable housing being built in Manatee County right now is the wrong kind of housing, according to Andy Reasoner, with Royal Palm Terrace Apartments.

“We have to build a different kind of housing to deal with low and very low (income) and especially homeless,” said Reasoner, who is on the county’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee. “What we are building now economically will not work.”

On Monday afternoon, the advisory board tasked with reviewing Manatee County codes for any barriers to developing affordable housing in Manatee County got to work. The Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, which is mandated by Florida Statute, met for the first time since Nov. 17, 2014.

Diana Shoemaker, executive director of Manatee County Habitat for Humanity, was appointed chairwoman of the advisory committee.

“You act as a liaison to make recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners of any changes that are needed within Land Development Code and Comprehensive Plan,” Denise Thomas, the county’s housing and community development coordinator, told the committee Monday. “Everybody has a different perspective of affordable housing and the needs. Each of you sees it from a different perspective.”

While the advisory board only has to meet at the minimum every three years, affordable housing is a large concern within Manatee County, according to Thomas.

“We are hearing from all audiences that there is a challenge of getting affordable housing,” she said. “The plight is there and each of you have a different interest and that is why we are here to address those concerns.”

The advisory committee will have to “think outside the box and come up with creative solutions,” said committee member Shaun Koby.

“We are going to have to create structures that are different and that make sense,” he said.

There are families living in cars on the street, according to Donald Hill with Turning Points.

“What we really need is some plan for these people to be able to afford to live,” he said. “They have no place to live. They are living in the streets.”

Commissioner Charles Smith, who attended Monday’s meeting, said Manatee County is lacking affordable housing.

“We are years behind,” he said. “It is not just homeless. It is not just the one who got in trouble with the law. It is the ones right here that can’t afford a home. ...We are looking at you for making recommendations to us. We need strong recommendations from the advisory board. We really need that.”

The commission will continue the housing discussion Tuesday when they will hear recommendations from county staff about ways to address the housing situation in the county. The work session begins at 9 a.m. in the Manatee Room of the county administration building.

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Habitat for Humanity works to create more affordable housing in Manatee

tt habitat 1Manatee - 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.

Read article on Bradenton Herald

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.

Read more: http://www.bradenton.com/news/local/article91321652.html


Read more here: http://www.bradenton.com/news/local/article91321652.html#storylink=cpy

“HUD has taken a different viewpoint on fair housing and they are going to make local government accountable,” Thomas said. “They are going to look for outcomes. We definitely want to have some measurable outcomes.”

Manatee County will be measured annually on whether it is making improvements, according to O’Shea.

“We are going to have action shown every year,” he said. “In this plan, we are going to have to think a little more focused and find things that are within our ability to achieve.”

Seeking resident input

As county officials work on the Fair Housing Plan, which will be submitted to HUD in January, they want to hear from residents about the housing market and barriers that may exist. A Survey Monkey has been created on the county’s website, mymanatee.org, so the public can give feedback until 5 p.m. Aug. 1.

“They are the ones that are experiencing it, and they are bringing that knowledge to surface so we can look at what can be done,” Thomas said. “We need to know what is done currently. Their voice is crucial to this process to identify the right things to identify the right remedies.”

Most of the information-gathering will be informal, but there will be an opportunity for additional public feedback before the plan goes before the county commission for approval.

“That survey is trying to see what the current state of fair housing in Manatee County is by people telling us of their experience of fair housing,” O’Shea said. “This is the first step to figure out how big the problem is. It is a problem everywhere. I think HUD’s goal is to do away with segregation.”

With the heightened accountability and responsibility that will now be required of Manatee County, this is not just another fair housing plan to put on a shelf, Thomas noted.

“It is citizen driven,” she said. “We don’t want to guess on it. We want them to tell us.”

Discrimination in Manatee

Based on feedback received from poeple being served at Turning Points in Bradenton, there seems to be a lot of discrimination taking place, according to Adell Erozer, executive director of the non-profit organization that provides services to Manatee’s homeless. And she points directly at landlords.

“They can pretty much cherry-pick who they want,” Erozer said. “While it might not look like discrimination, they are going to choose that person that will give them the greatest return. They are making a lot of assumptions, and that is where discrimination comes in many times.”

Discrimination is to blame for the county’s housing problems, says Commissioner Charles Smith.

“That is why we have the lack of affordable housing,” he said. “The housing situation in Manatee County has not been to the forefront. Most developments that we are approving, residents can’t afford to move in. Manatee County hasn’t done their fair share to make sure they have quality affordable housing. Affordable housing must be countywide in the unincorporated area.”

The Manatee County Housing Authority works to educate residents about fair housing through periodicals and newsletters, according to Willie Calhoun, the authority’s executive director. Within the next couple weeks, the agency will have a film showing in the office lobby as a tool to educate the public about fair housing.

“I think it is important that we help educate them, so they will know that housing is for everybody for everywhere,” he said. “It is not just in one location. Fair housing should be across the board for everybody. We try to educate the landlord as well as the tenant.”

The lack of affordable housing only exacerbates the homeless problem, Erozer said.

“We are talking about people that need a place to live while they are working,” she said. “I think that as your number of units available has decreased and the number of people competing for the number of units has increased it certainly has gotten worse because of the numbers. It is certainly more difficult for our people that we are trying to help find housing.”

Affordable equals fair

Some of the fair housing barriers can be addressed by building more affordable housing, O’Shea said.

“I think for us our best chance of probably doing something positive and getting more integration throughout the community is taking advantage of new development that is occurring,” he said. “It is occurring at a rapid rate.”

While the county has made some strides on the barriers identified in the 2010 Fair Housing Plan, there is no money allocated toward fair housing despite being mandated to have a plan as recipients of a federal grant.

“It is kind of hard to fund these things and do them at a local level because there is no money attached to them,” O’Shea said. “We identified things that we didn’t really have control over. The local fair housing enforcement would be a money issue.”

More affordable housing should be integrated into newer communities, he added.

“We’ve tried to encourage people to take advantage of our affordable housing program,” he said. “I think we can do a better job.”

Affordability is the most prominent barrier in Manatee County, according to Calhoun.

“Affordable housing is more of an issue right now,” he said. “That is the biggest complaint we get right now from our clientele.”

Through the housing authority’s Housing Choice Voucher rental payment assistance program, they serve 1,250 people in Manatee County but at least 900 are on the waiting list.

“There is not a whole lot of inventory out there,” Calhoun said. “The biggest concern right now is the inventory, availability of units. That is a big issue for existing clients and waiting list clients.”

Until affordable housing is built to help address the issues, there will continue to be issues, Smith said.

“The bottom line is Manatee County has to have action money set aside for affordable housing, and we don’t have that in place,” he said. “We need to have a plan in place. There is no plan to build affordable housing. ... Affordable housing is a public safety issue. Going into 2017, it is going to be the biggest issue.”


Read more here: http://www.bradenton.com/news/local/article91321652.html#storylink=cpy

“HUD has taken a different viewpoint on fair housing and they are going to make local government accountable,” Thomas said. “They are going to look for outcomes. We definitely want to have some measurable outcomes.”

Manatee County will be measured annually on whether it is making improvements, according to O’Shea.

“We are going to have action shown every year,” he said. “In this plan, we are going to have to think a little more focused and find things that are within our ability to achieve.”

Seeking resident input

As county officials work on the Fair Housing Plan, which will be submitted to HUD in January, they want to hear from residents about the housing market and barriers that may exist. A Survey Monkey has been created on the county’s website, mymanatee.org, so the public can give feedback until 5 p.m. Aug. 1.

“They are the ones that are experiencing it, and they are bringing that knowledge to surface so we can look at what can be done,” Thomas said. “We need to know what is done currently. Their voice is crucial to this process to identify the right things to identify the right remedies.”

Most of the information-gathering will be informal, but there will be an opportunity for additional public feedback before the plan goes before the county commission for approval.

“That survey is trying to see what the current state of fair housing in Manatee County is by people telling us of their experience of fair housing,” O’Shea said. “This is the first step to figure out how big the problem is. It is a problem everywhere. I think HUD’s goal is to do away with segregation.”

With the heightened accountability and responsibility that will now be required of Manatee County, this is not just another fair housing plan to put on a shelf, Thomas noted.

“It is citizen driven,” she said. “We don’t want to guess on it. We want them to tell us.”

Discrimination in Manatee

Based on feedback received from poeple being served at Turning Points in Bradenton, there seems to be a lot of discrimination taking place, according to Adell Erozer, executive director of the non-profit organization that provides services to Manatee’s homeless. And she points directly at landlords.

“They can pretty much cherry-pick who they want,” Erozer said. “While it might not look like discrimination, they are going to choose that person that will give them the greatest return. They are making a lot of assumptions, and that is where discrimination comes in many times.”

Discrimination is to blame for the county’s housing problems, says Commissioner Charles Smith.

“That is why we have the lack of affordable housing,” he said. “The housing situation in Manatee County has not been to the forefront. Most developments that we are approving, residents can’t afford to move in. Manatee County hasn’t done their fair share to make sure they have quality affordable housing. Affordable housing must be countywide in the unincorporated area.”

The Manatee County Housing Authority works to educate residents about fair housing through periodicals and newsletters, according to Willie Calhoun, the authority’s executive director. Within the next couple weeks, the agency will have a film showing in the office lobby as a tool to educate the public about fair housing.

“I think it is important that we help educate them, so they will know that housing is for everybody for everywhere,” he said. “It is not just in one location. Fair housing should be across the board for everybody. We try to educate the landlord as well as the tenant.”

The lack of affordable housing only exacerbates the homeless problem, Erozer said.

“We are talking about people that need a place to live while they are working,” she said. “I think that as your number of units available has decreased and the number of people competing for the number of units has increased it certainly has gotten worse because of the numbers. It is certainly more difficult for our people that we are trying to help find housing.”

Affordable equals fair

Some of the fair housing barriers can be addressed by building more affordable housing, O’Shea said.

“I think for us our best chance of probably doing something positive and getting more integration throughout the community is taking advantage of new development that is occurring,” he said. “It is occurring at a rapid rate.”

While the county has made some strides on the barriers identified in the 2010 Fair Housing Plan, there is no money allocated toward fair housing despite being mandated to have a plan as recipients of a federal grant.

“It is kind of hard to fund these things and do them at a local level because there is no money attached to them,” O’Shea said. “We identified things that we didn’t really have control over. The local fair housing enforcement would be a money issue.”

More affordable housing should be integrated into newer communities, he added.

“We’ve tried to encourage people to take advantage of our affordable housing program,” he said. “I think we can do a better job.”

Affordability is the most prominent barrier in Manatee County, according to Calhoun.

“Affordable housing is more of an issue right now,” he said. “That is the biggest complaint we get right now from our clientele.”

Through the housing authority’s Housing Choice Voucher rental payment assistance program, they serve 1,250 people in Manatee County but at least 900 are on the waiting list.

“There is not a whole lot of inventory out there,” Calhoun said. “The biggest concern right now is the inventory, availability of units. That is a big issue for existing clients and waiting list clients.”

Until affordable housing is built to help address the issues, there will continue to be issues, Smith said.

“The bottom line is Manatee County has to have action money set aside for affordable housing, and we don’t have that in place,” he said. “We need to have a plan in place. There is no plan to build affordable housing. ... Affordable housing is a public safety issue. Going into 2017, it is going to be the biggest issue.”

Manatee Habitat a Key Provider of Affordable Housing

Thanks to Christopher Willie for last Sunday’s editorial “Progress on affordable housing.” Manatee County Habitat for Humanity knows what families are facing. We also know that there are solutions that work.

For 22 years Manatee Habitat has been providing a solution for affordable housing to a segment of working families in our community. It’s a housing model that has provided 125 working families with a long-term solution to their housing needs.

Contrary to what some believe, Manatee Habitat does not give away homes. What Habitat has always done and will continue to do is build and sell sustainable, affordable homes to qualifying home buyers. Home buyers who meet financial guidelines, complete “sweat equity” hours and save an escrow account to pay their insurance and taxes.

For the next two years, Habitat will be building homes in the City of Bradenton, thanks to a Community Development Block Grant from the city to purchase property.

Habitat can’t solve the housing problem, but we can do our part by providing 8-10 additional families with safe, decent, permanent housing. As support from the community through volunteers, donations and corporate partnerships increases, we can do even more.

We look forward to being “at the table” as a partner in developing a spectrum of affordable housing options for all individuals and families seeking to live in Manatee County.

DIANA SHOEMAKER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

BRADENTON

Read more here: http://www.bradenton.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/article94115072.html#storylink=cpy

Volunteer Spotlight: Barbara & Bruce Kopp

Barbara and Bruce Kopp began as volunteers with Manatee Habitat during the construction of the very first home in the Palmetto Habitat community, Village of the Palms. In addition to serving on the Family Services Committee, Barb has been a mentor to new Habitat families who qualify for the homebuyer program. If there is ever a need, Barbara is always there to lend a hand, provide a contact or render sound advice.

Bruce has shared his photography skills taking photos at home dedications and other Habitat events. Bruce and Barbara have attended and helped at each Habitat Home Dedication and volunteer at the annual Habitat Families Christmas Celebration. Didi Hager, Family Services Manager says, "Barb and Bruce are an integral part of the Family Services Committee and I appreciate their dedication and their love of Habitat."