SARASOTA COUNTY (WFLA) – Living in Sarasota County is getting more and more difficult for the working class. Recent data from Apartment List, landed Sarasota a top-five slot for the fastest rent growth in the nation, year over year.
At Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, CEO Chris Johnson says the call volume has climbed exponentially over the last year.
“We have seen our numbers about 213% of what it was last year. Families are being priced out of their homes, priced out of their apartments, and have nowhere to go. Many are families that were making it a year ago, but not today,” said Johnson.
The CEO says it is clear the need for affordable housing is great. “As of the last official study that was done in 2018, we are about 14,000 units short of our affordable housing need,” said Johnson.
Business owners across the county are also seeing the struggle through their employees. Nothing Bundt Cakes owner Kelly Erdmann tells 8 On Your Side about 25% of her staff are experiencing issues finding housing.
“I have folks that have had to move back in with her parents because their rent has been raised significantly to where they can no longer afford it. I have had an individual who moved in with my manager and her husband because again, he wanted to stay locally, but he really had nowhere to go so she brought him in and he is living with them. One of my individuals had to move into her car. She moved from South Carolina, moved here, fell upon some hard times and found herself living out of her car,” explained the small business owner.
Erdmann was one of many business owners and community advocates to bring her story to the Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners last week.
“I see my team members and how hard they work, so you want to do what is right for them. I would like to find housing for them personally myself, but I can’t do that so I think just being a voice for the small businesses and for my team members and getting the community to truly understand that this is personal. This is bigger when you live it and hear your staff talking about it every day,” explained Erdmann.
The commission is in the process of figuring out how to allocate $84.5 million in federal dollars.
“My hope is that they will listen to the voices of our community. They put out a survey. They asked the community what is the greatest need and by and large above everything else was affordable housing,” said Johnson. “This is once in a generational opportunity that we have. These funds won’t come again and they have a very short shelf life to be able to use, so to be able to invest and make the decision now is key to what we can do over the next four years and five years that we have these funds available,” said Johnson. “If the appropriate amount of funds aren’t applied to affordable housing opportunities, what we are going to see is an exponential need in the future,” he continued.
Leading into a county commission meeting last week, $5 million was tentatively set aside for affordable housing. Several community members felt that wasn’t nearly enough.
“I think that this is a crisis that is right in front of us. If we don’t do something about it now, we may never have this opportunity again,” said Erdmann. “Let’s allocate them appropriately across all the projects that need to be done. If the community is stating that housing is our number one issue, I think more than 6% should be allocated,” she continued.
Commissioners are in support of using funds for affordable housing, but they still haven’t decided on an amount.
“I would suggest going to $10 or $15 million for affordable housing. We are almost had a crisis point,” said Commissioner Nancy Detert at last week’s meeting. “5 million out of 84 million is ridiculously low,” she continued.
A board discussion will continue in January.