Affordable Housing

Manatee County Employers Are Banding Together to Build Affordable Housing for Employees

Eagle Rock of Manatee is poised to offer employees of participating employers below-market rental rates.

By Kim Doleatto May 25, 2023

Oakridge Apartments in Sarasota is one of multiple affordable housing projects by One Stop Housing.

Free doughnuts and extra paid time off are how we often think of work perks. But what if those perks went beyond that and touched on affordable housing, one of most pressing issues many workers face? 

Elon Musk plans to build a town in Texas to offer below-market rents to his employees, but he’s not the first person to address the issue. When piano maker Steinway & Sons expanded in the 1870s, its leaders built housing that even included a kindergarten, a library and a post office. Meta (previously Facebook) might do the same, with plans to build its Willow Village in Menlo Park, California.

That’s because the math is simple. Company leaders realize that the employee retention their businesses depend on, plus the competitive advantage it yields, often relies on access to affordable housing.

In Manatee County, where the affordable housing crisis persists, Mark Vengroff is joining the ranks of Musk and Meta. He's the managing partner of One Stop Housing, one of the largest owners and operators of for-profit workforce housing in the state.

One of Vengroff's latest projects is called Eagle Rock of Manatee, and it’s a collaborative multifamily development effort between the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corporation and One Stop Housing that depends on buy-in from area employers to build a housing community for employees. After meeting with 18 different local businesses, each of which employ more than 100 people, Eagle Rock of Manatee is gaining steam.

“We're looking for each employer to put in roughly 10 units, for about a $300,000 investment,” Vengroff says. "It includes the amenities." It's a great value, too, since the area median price for a single-family home stands at roughly $500,000, according to the most recent numbers.

Once complete, the multifamily project will house roughly 328 working families, within three communities connected to a public center with amenities like daycare, telehealth, a pool, basketball and bocce courts, walking trails and more. Informed by roughly 700 employee surveys, it will offer a variety of studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom units. Rents for the employees of the participating employers will be set below market and cost no more than 30 percent of a renter’s annual income, including utilities and other costs—the threshold for what’s considered “affordable housing.”

“In July, we have a meeting with senior executives and our attorneys to structure the partnership. The second meeting is with HR attorneys from the companies to talk details and some dos and don'ts,” Vengroff says. “To wrap it up, we've also been meeting with local nonprofits that would like to bring services into the fold, but we want to lock down the private side first."

Vengroff is aiming to replicate a model that's being discussed for Sarasota County, where the need for affordable housing is equally pressing. 

Although it's too soon to disclose an address for Eagle Rock of Manatee, Vengroff says he's pinpointed a large, county-owned parcel of land in Manatee County and “we're working with commissioners to get it to us.” Groundbreaking is projected for mid-2024. Construction of the first of four phases should take roughly 18 months.

For many, the units can’t come soon enough.

Keefe Fugleberg, owner and co-founder of Fyzical Therapy & Balance Centers, who also owns the downtown Sarasota location, employs roughly 160 people across Manatee and Sarasota counties and is among employers buying into the Eagle Rock of Manatee project.

“A physical therapist assistant's salary may be roughly $50,000 to $60,000 a year, and a physical therapist's range is $75,000 to $90,000," he says. “But living here can still be too costly. Imagine someone with kids. They can easily be paying $50,000 a year for rent. It's not feasible for younger families and people starting out."

“We’ve tried to bring new hires from out of town, but often they say they can't afford it, or don't want to spend 40 percent or more of their income on rent," he continues. "Being able to offer housing is a way to give us a little more of a competitive edge."

Christine Robinson, executive director of The Argus Foundation, works on policy and public and private sector communications for solutions to local problems, like affordable housing.

“My members are local CEOs and decision-makers, and affordable housing is the No. 1 complaint I hear from them," she says. "From restaurants to manufacturing, I don't know a type of business it hasn't affected.” 

Amid a booming market demand for luxury units, most incentives for building affordable housing have gone by the wayside, with vacant land quickly dwindling. 

"Although the [Eagle Rock of Manatee] project started with larger area employers, interest in the model has grown among smaller-sized operations, too," Robinson says.

One Stop Housing would develop, build and manage the properties based on its decades in the business. The employer-owned housing would continue to accrue value and receive income through the rent.

With the Eagle Rock of Manatee model, Vengroff also hopes to create a path toward home ownership. "Once the property is built out, we want to use the extra vacant land to build single-family homes or duplexes that employees can buy at a lower price point," he says.

Eagle Rock of Manatee will target those making between 60 percent and 80 percent of the area median income (AMI), which equates to $51,780 to $69,040 a year for a family of four, or $36,300 to $48,400 for an individual.

While housing authorities typically help more low-income residents, many private builders who use public incentives and tax breaks focus on so-called affordable units for those in the 80 to 120 percent bracket, like this one, which starts at $48,400 a year for a single person. 

In Sarasota and Manatee counties, there is a shortage of affordable housing for the workforce by more than 46,000 units. Approximately 40 percent of Sarasota and Manatee county households are cost-burdened, meaning the family is spending more than 30 percent of their total annual salary on housing.

"Manufacturing, hospitality, the school district and hospitals—there is not a sector that hasn't been impacted by this challenge. It's been probably 20 years in the making, but has escalated in the last few years, and we're losing workforce," says Sharon Hillstrom, president and CEO of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corporation.

Vengroff worked with his late father, Harvey Vengroff, to grow One Stop Housing, which Harvey started. It specializes in buying and converting hotels, offices, schools and other property types into apartment buildings where units are priced below market rates. It operates in Bradenton, Kissimmee, Orlando, Sarasota and Memphis, Tennessee, with 4,000 units in Florida. Area properties include Robin’s Apartments, University Row Apartments, University Oaks, El Patio Bradenton, El Patio Sarasota and more. Eagle Rock of Manatee is the first built around employer buy-in.

“My father said to me, 'If you're working, you deserve to have a clean, safe roof over your head.' When people work and make their own payment, they're proud, and I think it carries through to bigger and better things in life for them," Vengroff says. "We make money, too, so it works."

If you're an interested area employer, fill out this form to learn more. 

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