Making It Affordable

By Hannah Wallace February 28, 2007

Housing affordability for employees has become one of the biggest concerns of business leaders statewide and locally. The median price of a single-family existing home in the Sarasota-Bradenton market stood at $305,200 (existing condo was $258,900) in 2006, according to the Florida Association of Realtors, while the median income for a family of four was $58,400. Using the 30-percent rule that a family should pay no more than 30 percent of its income on housing if it's to keep from being cost-burdened, that qualifies the family for rent or a mortgage of $1,460 a month. The Florida Housing Data Clearing House at the University of Florida's Shimberg Center sets the home price at $192,000 or below for a family earning at or below $58,400. The Shimberg Center reports that 25 percent of the families living in both counties pay more than 30 percent of income on housing and approximately 10 percent pay more than 50 percent. By 2010 Sarasota County will need 11,283 homes for low-income households, Manatee will need 12,529 homes.

Developers, nonprofits and government are trying to fill the gap. But it's not easy. These days they're facing higher land and construction costs and a fight from neighborhood associations opposed to high-density, lower-cost housing in their back yards. Nonetheless, the intrepid have still stepped up to the plate. Here, heading from Palmetto south to Venice, are 10 projects that are being built or planned. Not all have been approved or had received financing at press time.

Mendoza Road and Canal Road in Palmetto

Developer: de Morgan Communities What's being built: 1,600 single-family homes and townhouses, including 400 affordable units on 350 acres. The affordable housing units are $137,000, $152,000 and $168,000. What's special: The Villages of Avignon is for people of various incomes. "It's close to jobs and shopping so we don't saddle our people with long commutes," says Robert D. Barwick, chairman of de Morgan Communities. The project consists of eight neighborhoods: Carpentras, Lauris, Cadenet, Monteux, Courthezon, Lacoste, Bonnieux and Robion. "I am not aware of anything this size that's ever been done with this level of affordable content and mixed use," says Barwick. "Most affordable projects are much smaller than this." Status: Carpentras, with 198 units, is being built and 75 percent has been sold. Lauris is in the land development process. The entire project is expected to be completed by the middle of 2010.

1. The Villages of Avignon

2. Palmetto Estates

Canal Road, north of 301 in Palmetto

Developer: DL Homes LLC What's being built: 200 single-family homes on 57 acres. Prices are not yet set, but approximately 25 percent will be affordable, and the remainder will be between $200,000 and $250,000. What's special: Sales manager Bill Mergens says affordable and workforce housing have not been really embraced by developers, so "we are trying to bring that product to the market," he says. "We've been doing a lot of affordable programs for years. It just happens to be something we know how to build and do very well." Status: The project has been approved; all streets are completed and construction started last winter.

3. Village of the Palms

Located between 12th St. W. and 11th St. Drive W. (north and south boundaries, respectively), and 8th Ave. Drive and 5th Ave. Drive as the west and east boundaries in Palmetto

Developer: Manatee County Habitat for Humanity, a joint project with the Palmetto CRA What's being built: 34 single-family homes on three acres, priced at $85,000. Each home cost $55,000 to construct. Depending on income, buyers receive a $40,000 to $45,000 mortgage through Florida's State Housing Initiative Funds. What's special: The subdivision was created in 2003 to allow income-challenged individuals a chance to own their own home. Habitat will carry the mortgages. "We have support from Manatee County, community development offices and the city of Palmetto," says Angela Hall, manager of family services for Manatee County Habitat for Humanity. A homeowners' association has been formed to facilitate interaction among residents. Status: Currently 17 homes have been completed and families have moved in, and five homes are under construction.

4. Oak Haven

Corner of 27th St. E. and 31st Ave. E. in Bradenton

Developer: DL Homes LLC What's being built: 46 single-family homes, priced at approximately $168,000, on 10 acres What's special: "It's 100 percent affordable. Most builders build [only] a percentage of their houses as affordable," says sales manager Bill Mergens. "We're trying to incorporate this project in conjunction with the county's requirements for what they consider to be a moderate priced home." Status: Construction started last June. Completion was scheduled for February, and some families have already moved in.

5. University Town Center

Southwest of I-75 on University Parkway

Developer: Benderson Development CompanyWhat's being proposed: If approved by Sarasota County Commissioners, University Town Center will include 1,746 multifamily homes and 2 million square feet of commercial space. Twenty-five percent of the residences must be workforce housing for people earning between 80 percent and up to 100 percent of area median income, says Wendy Thomas, community housing manager of Sarasota County. Translated into dollars, workforce homes will be priced between $153,000 to $192,000. What's special: As of mid-January, Benderson had tried three times to get the entire project approved. At the latest Sarasota County Commission meeting, Benderson brought in Moule & Polyzoides, a prominent California New Urbanist architecture firm, and Two Trails, Inc., a green consultant in Sarasota. Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton is now calling University Town Center a "real" New Urbanist project, and says Benderson is providing the highest ratio of market rate to affordable housing in the county. Status: The entire project got a tentative approval from the Sarasota County Commission in January with another vote scheduled for later that month.

6. Puppy Park

Adjacent to the Sarasota Kennel Club, between Desoto and Old Bradenton roads

Developer: Habitat for Humanity Sarasota What's being proposed: 215 two-story townhouses on 17 acres for a project temporarily being called the rather humiliating name, Puppy Park. Units will be priced for buyers who earn 30 to 70 percent of average median income. Included in the project are a park, swimming pool and community center. What's special: The homes will be designed by Sarasota architect Carl Abbott in a modern style. "Nothing this ambitious, this size or this architecturally pleasing has ever been done by Habitat anywhere in the country," says Mike Jacobson, executive director of Habitat for Humanity Sarasota. The project will include affordable daycare, a community center and community green space, and is located within a few minutes of downtown Sarasota. Status: The site plan is complete and the rezoning process is under way. Sarasota County is helping to finance the $5.2 million purchase of the property through tax-exempt bonds. Construction is planned to start in early 2008.

7. 24th Street Project

24th Street and Links Avenue in Sarasota

Developer: Habitat for Humanity Sarasota What's being proposed: 11 two-story townhomes for buyers who earn 30 to 70 percent of average median income. What's special: "It is going to be the first Home Front Homes modular energy efficient houses that we've ever attempted," says Mike Jacobson. (See story on Home Front on pg. 59.) "They are made with panelized construction-meaning there is no wood in the frame of this particular house-so there is never mildew, mold or any termites, and wind resistance is up to 200 mph. I really think that this should stimulate a whole new way in which we look at low-cost affordable housing with energy efficiency, health, simplicity of construction. It could revolutionize Habitat, certainly in Sarasota, maybe throughout the county." Status: The project has received city approval, and it is currently in design and planning. Construction is expected to start in April. Habitat for Humanity Sarasota is planning several other projects: Jericho Place, 14 townhouses off Central Avenue; Leonard Reid Avenue, 150 to 200 homes, including rentals, east of U.S. 301, between Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Myrtle Street; Payne Park Village, 127 condos that would be built as part of developer Ron Burks' project off School Avenue; Royal Palms Gardens, a renovation of an apartment complex west of Old Bradenton Road.

8.Newtown Redevelopment Project

Central Avenue between 20th and 21st streets in Sarasota

Developer: The Michael's Development Co. of New Jersey What's being built: Initial plans call for 873 new units of rental flats, townhouses and owner-occupied condos in a mixed-income community. Habitat for Humanity Sarasota will handle the home ownership portion of the project. Rentals will start at $329 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, and top out at $1,100 for a townhouse. Condo prices could start at about $250,000. What's special: This project will tear down the Sarasota Housing Authority's four blighted housing projects on 52 acres in Newtown. The existing 388 tenants will receive Section 8 vouchers to move elsewhere during construction. Michael's has built similar projects involving federal grants for three decades. Status: Michael's is in the process of developing a site plan and designs for the homes, and hopes to begin developing the homes where Janie Poe now stands in late 2007.

9. School Avenue Project

Hatton Street from Shade to School avenues in Sarasota

Developer: Community Housing Trust and Sarasota County What's being proposed: 40 townhomes ranging from $150,000 to $200,000. What's special: Martina Guilfoil, Community Housing Trust CEO, says this project aims to provide 40 units of workforce housing on a county-owned site. "The county is donating the land for the creation of workforce housing, and all 40 units will be affordable and within downtown Sarasota," says Guilfoil. At several neighborhood meetings, area residents have supported the project. Status: The Community Housing Trust is in the lengthy rezoning application process. Construction is expected to start in 18 months.

10. The Bridges

Laurel Road, east of I-75 in north Venice

Developer: Gulf Coast Strategic Investments of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice What's being built: The initial plans call for 650 single-family homes, townhomes and condos. No prices have been set yet. What's special: The Bridges attempts "to create a mixed use of mixed-income community homes for working families," says Teri Hansen, president of Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice. The Bridges has three goals: to be a community everyone would want to live in; to be sustainable socially, economically and environmentally; and to make developers recognize that it is replicable. Harvard University plans to study the "social capital implications" of the project. Status: The land annexation (146 acres) has been approved by the Venice City Council, and the project is at the comprehensive plan amendment stage with the state of Florida. The foundation is hoping to break ground on the infrastructure for the community within the year, including a new north-south connector road between Border and Laurel roads.

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