Hurricane Ian left a massive impact on attainable workforce housing in our region. Coupling that with the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying financial hardships, the unaffordability of housing in our region for low-income renters has been exacerbated. Family Promise of South Sarasota County (FPSSC) is a strong and important nonprofit partner of Gulf Coast Community Foundation, working to establish workforce-attainable housing for our community. Recently, Gulf Coast Community Foundation awarded a matching grant of $150,000 to FPSSC for the Pathways Home Project in Venice for families at risk of or experiencing homelessness. Gulf Coast sat down with FPSSC Executive Director Jennifer Fagenbaum for an update.
FPSSC is an affiliate of Family Promise National based in New Jersey. At a national level, Family Promise exists to ensure that homelessness for children is rare, brief, and nonrecurring. Locally, FPSSC exists to serve families experiencing a housing crisis in Englewood, North Port, Venice, Nokomis, and Osprey. They opened their doors to the south Sarasota community in 2015 and have served hundreds of local families in their mission to provide housing support to children and their families in south Sarasota County.
In August of 2021, FPSSC was finishing its feasibility study for workforce-attainable housing. FPSSC’s board granted approval to find and purchase land for the Pathways Home Project property. The feasibility study would help them determine a timeframe for building. They met a builder in August who came back in September with ten houses that could be done by the end of the year. The builder sold them all the houses at a discount. Suddenly, FPSSC found itself with only three months to raise $2.5 million dollars. They knew at the end of November that they wouldn’t make it, but generous donors Stephen and Redenta Picazio came forward and said this must happen, providing them with a bridge loan for the other $1.5 million so they could close on the property by the deadline. The name of the ten units of housing is Parkside Cottages: Stephen and Redenta Picazio Family Homes.
Currently, the ten homes that offer workforce-attainable housing are flourishing. There are two people living there who work for the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office and one who works for the City of Venice Police Department. All ten units are transitional housing units, meant for clients who come out of FPSSC’s shelter and stay for a year to stabilize and get back on their feet. Most families start with FPSSC’S shelter rotation program first with local congregations and clubs. FPSSC has thirteen host congregations, all local churches who take one week each quarter. Families stay within the church, and volunteers feed the families and take care of them. The families move every week to a different host site. This helps families create a network of people who care and help, and helps connect the community to people in need.
The Langer Family
The Langer family consists of Emma and her 22-month-old son, Zander. Emma works and although she currently does not have a vehicle, she is very resourceful on getting to the places needs to go on her bicycle. Emma has been homeless off and on for the last five years due to family issues and a toxic relationship. Her top three goals are to obtain stable housing, become financially independent, and live a stable and happy life. Zander is in Pre-K and loves to play with cars, trains, and blocks. While in the Bridge Housing program, Emma was able to save $1,143.00 and completed the New Beginnings Financial Education Course with the case manager. She is eligible to move into the Pathways Home program and will be residing in one of the remaining Parkside Cottage units by the end of November.
The next phase of FPSSC’s strategic plan is to build or purchase much more housing – potentially apartment buildings and homes. Their goal is to finish paying off this initial village and then look for more workforce-attainable housing. They plan to look at all options to create the most workforce-attainable housing as quickly as possible.
Transforming Housing Together
FPSSC has already paid back $300,000 of the loan and they are seeking other investors to help them cross the finish line.
“We are about to lose our workforce,” explained FPSSC Executive Director Jennifer Fagenbaum. “Many of our clients are leaving the area because they can’t afford it. Instead they are moving to other areas where they can afford the rent and are paid at their job the same or more. We have a lot of clients coming to us for help and we are trying to work through solutions. At the end of the day, there’s just nowhere affordable to rent here and many decide to give up and go somewhere else. These important people are starting to leave the area creating a shortage of workers.
If we could increase the workforce-attainable housing in our area, we would have more long-term employees in our workforce and they would stay longer because they are happier and not struggling or stressed,” continued Fagenbaum. “If you haven’t been through the stress of not having attainable housing, you can’t even imagine it. I’ve been homeless myself. If we create sustainability for our workforce, we will have a happier community. Folks will know that their community is taking care of them. That’s the hardest part - to know how big the task is ahead of us. I have to take a deep breath, chip away at it, know I’m helping people, and eventually good change will take place.”
FPSSC just held a strategic planning meeting with Betsy Steiner, Gulf Coast Community Foundation’s Invest in Incredible Executive Director. One of the conversations they had was about partnerships and FPSSC is looking for them. State and federal funding could be accessed to partner with large businesses to create more workforce housing. We know there is much more to come from this tremendous organization. Their creative solutions are a model of collaboration and the only way we’ll solve this housing crisis is together.
For ways that you can help, visit https://familypromisessc.org/.