Helping Heroes

Sarasota’s First Affordable Housing Project for Veterans Just Broke Ground

Thanks to area nonprofits, donors and gifted land, the city’s first veteran-focused affordable housing units are slated for completion next year. 

By Kim Doleatto November 1, 2023

Rendering of the residential complex headed to 1529 and 1539 25th Street in Sarasota.

Amid the bustle of new construction sites dotting the city and beyond, 10 new low-cost residential units are headed to north Sarasota. The Veterans Housing Initiative couldn’t come soon enough, as the area has made national headlines for being one of the most unaffordable rental metros in the nation. Although rents are cooling somewhat, the percentage is marginal and rates still pose a challenge for many. (For the latest numbers, click here.)

Now, spearheaded by the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, this veterans initiative provides long-awaited, affordable housing to help the nation’s heroes. 

Within Sarasota County, there are “roughly 100 veterans suffering from housing insecurity—meaning that they’re threatened with homelessness, are homeless or have other housing needs leading to instability,” says Jon Thaxton, Gulf Coast’s senior vice president for community leadership, who is also a long time local affordable housing advocate.

Although the project isn't offering as many units as are needed, “when we house 10 vets [out of 100 who need help], that’s 10 percent of the problem. If you’re one of them, it’s 100 percent a big deal for you,” Thaxton says. 

Jon Thaxton, GCCF’s senior vice president for community leadership, spoke at yesterday’s Veteran’s Housing Initiave groundbreaking ceremony. Sarasota Mayor Kyle Battie and US Congressman Greg Steube were also in attendance.

In January of last year, the Sarasota City Commission voted unanimously to gift the land at 1529 and 1539 25th Street to the initiative's nonprofit partner, Society of St. Vincent de Paul South Pinellas Inc. The units will be managed by St. Vincent de Paul Cares. St. Vincent De Paul Cares will also provide tenants with transportation to medical appointments and assist with employment, if needed. The city secured the almost half-acre vacant land in 2015 for $13,100.

The veterans’ incomes range from $15,000 to $35,000 a year, thanks to the Veterans Administration and Social Security income they receive, “but what we find is that even with the vouchers provided, it’s not enough money to pay for area rents, following two years in a row of at least 30 percent increases," Thaxton says. "Rents were already unaffordable five years ago, so we have a severe deficit in our housing supply targeting people who have low and very low incomes,."

Where were they living before?

“It's more so how, not where,” he says. “Many were staying with friends or relatives short term, which is not secure.” The focus with this project, he says, is "not only to prevent homelessness, but to provide housing with dignity. It’s not slapped-together, shabby construction." 

The veterans, who sign an annual lease, will spend no more than 30 percent of their income on rent—the national definition of affordability. The units are not transitional housing, and there's no mandatory minimum stay. The idea is if tenants are paying no more than 30 percent of income on housing, "they can use the rest for living expenses and potentially save and earn for another market-priced unit and move out, making space for someone else in need," Thaxton says.

Replicating similar projects is part of the plan. The complex will cost roughly $2 million to build and is based on a foundation of collaboration between nonprofits, donors, the City of Sarasota and public dollars from the Office of Housing and Community Development.

“Without all the pieces coming together, it doesn't happen,” Thaxton says. “Let's take advantage of this celebration to highlight the need for very low-income housing in Sarasota. This project is a great contribution, but it's not a solution. So after celebrating, let's roll our sleeves up and do more."

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