Going Up

Sarasota City Commission Approves Downtown Workforce Housing Project

The board voted unanimously Monday to purchase downtown Sarasota land to develop almost 200 affordable units earmarked for local employees.

By Kim Doleatto April 16, 2024

The purchase agreement would see the City of Sarasota acquire 1544 and 1590 First St. in downtown Sarasota, across from City Hall, to build almost 200 units targeting local workers.

The Sarasota City Commission voted unanimously on Monday to approve a plan to build 200 units of workforce housing on prime real estate on First Street, right across from City Hall. The project—which is being funded by the city and the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation—will include two 12-story buildings with parking and street-level commercial space. The Gulf Coast Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County are also expected to participate.

“We’ve gotten some drips, but we haven't done anything impactful for the affordable housing crisis," Sarasota City Manager Marlon Brown said yesterday. "During Covid, Florida stayed open and people from out of state bought up houses with cash, outpricing locals depending on loans to buy a home." Now, he added, many people "work here but can’t live here."

The plan calls for the city to pull money from its affordable housing trust fund for the purchase, which will cost $7.4 million in total. The Barancik Foundation has made a $1.5 million commitment to the project and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County are raising money for the project, as well. Other potential partners include Sarasota Memorial Hospital and the Sarasota County school system since workers like teachers and medical staff often struggle to find local housing. According to Brown, state Rep. Fiona McFarland, R-Sarasota, has also requested $2 million from the state to go toward the project, a request that awaits the governor's signoff.

The First Street parcels include 1530, 1544 and 1590.

The property's current zoning allows for 50 units per acre, but thanks to the Live Local Act, introduced by the state last year, and a recently approved Sarasota affordable housing density bonus, up to 200 units per acre will be allowed.

The proposed project calls for two 12-story buildings, with three levels of parking below eight levels of residential space, offering roughly 192 units that can house approximately 400. In addition to nurses and teachers, targeted professionals include HVAC techs, electricians, web designers and others earning between roughly $51,000 and $77,000 a year.

The project would also include about 15,100 square feet of ground-floor commercial space and 280 parking spots. The units will range from 540-square-foot studios to 1,050-square-foot two-bedroom units and target those earning between 80 and 120 percent of the city's Area Median Income, or AMI.

A rough rendering of the project.

The monthly rent for those earning 80 percent of the AMI for one person is $1,280 per month, and for three people no more than $1,645; rent for someone earning 120 percent of the AMI for one person is no more than $1,920 a month, and no more than $2,196 for two people. The units are to remain priced as workforce housing in perpetuity, and Sarsota's Hoyt Architects is designing the project. A private management company will manage and operate the rental property on behalf of the City of Sarasota.

Julie Leach, executive director of the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, told the commission that most full-time staff at the theater can’t afford to live in the city and experience long commutes late at night after shows. She added that contract performers who come to Sarasota to entertain audiences rely on walkability, since they don't travel here with a car, and high prices make it a challenge to house them.

Resident Jose Fernandez, meanwhile, said that the “government and specifically the city are unqualified to execute a project such as this" and that it "wasn't their responsibility."

“This housing proposal isn't critical," Fernandez added. "It's just virtue signaling and a predictable drain on the budget."

Brown said, “I don't know how there's opposition to government involvement when the state is also incentivizing local governments to do affordable housing. The state of Florida, which is highly conservative, is putting its dollars into this.”

City Commissioner Kyle Battie added, “People in opposition to this, I guarantee you, are well off. We need to get real about affordable housing in this city. Stop saying you want it but don't want to do anything about it. I'm sick and tired of hearing the people come to speak for others when the things we're speaking about don't necessarily affect  them.”

The city has until Monday, April 22, to sign the purchase contracts and 90 days for due diligence, and until October to secure funding. Groundbreaking would be expected in late 2025 and the project would require roughly two years to build.

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