TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — $25 million and almost 700 homes in Sarasota County: That’s the deal agreed to by the Sarasota County Board of County Commissioners. While meant to address affordable housing using a combination of federal funding and private investment, the project comes with a caveat.

The new homes for the low-income residents who benefit must be completed in under two years.

Commission Chair Alan Maio told organizations who proposed the projects to only “tee up” for the money if they could deliver on the tight deadline of 18 months for planning and construction, from start to finish.

The Sarasota BCC approved the $25 million investment by the county on Tuesday to address a housing crisis caused by lack of affordability and availability in the whole state of Florida. The program is aimed at helping different categories of residents in need of sustainable, affordable shelter.

Those categories include “‘enumerated’ eligible capital investment uses, eligible beneficiaries, eligible populations, obligation and expenditure deadline requirements, and qualified subrecipient agreement agencies,” according to Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

Each project is intended to build low-income housing that for residents making at most 80% of the area median income. The U.S. Treasury defines its targeted populations as “impacted” or “disproportionately impacted” residents, meaning their incomes are at times less than 65% of the AMI.

The AMI in Sarasota County is $77,200. That means residents who can benefit from the proposed projects, once completed, must make at most $61,750, according to the county’s 2021 AMI records.

Commissioner Nancy Detert said the vote to approve the funding would provide money to build more affordable housing than the county had ever done before, but not all of the commissioners were fully on board. Vice Chair Ron Cutsinger said that while some of the partner developers had a proven track record for building and maintaining the homes they provide, he was concerned mostly at giving such a large amount of money at all.

Commissioner Michael Moran also expressed concern over the project approval, stressing that failing to meet the deadlines could expose taxpayers.

Meeting the deadline for the builds, which are spread out across the county and among eight community partners could be more difficult. In the back-and-forth of the BCC meeting on Tuesday, the number of homes or housing units to be built was increased from 623 to 696, but the funding amount remained at $25 million from the county’s American Rescue Plan Act Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Funds.

Partner Org.ProjectUnitsBCC UnitsBCC ARPA AllocationTotal CostsBCC ARPA %
Loveland Center, Inc.The Villas at Loveland Village8080 $5,000,000  $16,000,000 31.3%
Atlantic Housing FoundationThe Waters at North Port288288 $1,500,000  $40,000,000 3.8%
Community Assisted Supportive Living (CASL)New Trail Plaza106106 $4,200,000  $28,000,000 15.0%
Family Promise of South Sarasota CountyParkside Cottages Expansion22 $500,000  $500,000 100.0%
Family Promise of South Sarasota CountySouth County Homes70 $0 $2,700,000 0.0%
Habitat for Humanity Sarasota, Inc.Single Family Affordable Housing Units320 $0 $10,976,000 0.0%
Harvest HouseHome Again II66 $800,000  $850,000 94.1%
OHCD and the SHA Central Gardens3030 $3,000,000  $8,250,000 36.4%
Sarasota Housing Authority (SHA)Cypress Square Phase I (fka Amaryllis Park Place Phase II)8484 $3,000,000  $25,000,000 12.0%
Sarasota Housing Authority (SHA)Lofts on Lemon Phase II100100 $7,000,000  $31,700,000 22.1%
(Source: ARPA CLFRF, Sarasota BCC)

Beginning in April, the county will begin meeting with partners to discuss eligibility requirements for the funding awards, and what each organization must do to receive the money for the builds. The county’s documents also warn partners that “this is a short turnaround to commit to.”

Even the project planners agree, the deadline could pose a problem.

According to Jon Thaxton, the Senior Vice-President for Community Leadership at Gulf Coast community Foundation, said the additional units added to the projects receiving funding could be an issue, but not as much as the “accelerated” dates set by the county commission.

The Treasury requires that funding provided by ARPA be obligated by Dec. 31, 2024 and spent by Dec. 31, 2026. The BCC chose instead to move the deadline for obligation and use to 18 months, which Thaxton said “isn’t a lot of time.” The projects to build in that timeframe are all what Thaxton called “specialty housing,” so “a lot of off the shelf items don’t work.” By that, he means getting items like appliances and some building materials is harder thanks to the current economic climate of supply chain delays and labor shortages.

Additionally, extra “government red tape like procurement guideline,” harder to meet, according to Thaxton. On top of that, the inclusion of units from Loveland Center were not included in the GCCF’s original proposal, so the organization was unsure how it would affect meeting the construction and funding deadlines set by the county to approve the $25 million funding.

Thaxton said GCCF had already “dismissed” some of the projects they wanted to get funding for out of concern that the deadlines would not be able to be met. Still, he said “We have the highest level of confidence” that the projects submitted and approved will make be complete in the deadline and timeframe set by Sarasota BCC.

He said the biggest hurdle for the projects approved to meet the deadline set fell down to how the funding was delivered.

Part of the program proposal included use of what’s called a Low-Income Housing Tax Credit. GCCF said in planning documents that “The primary source of funding has been through Florida Housing Finance Corporation’s competitive 9% Low Income Housing Tax Credit.” The proposal said it was the intention of the organization to “pursue a 4% LIHTC/Tax Exempt Bond financing structure” to fund the project, allowing for gap financing and using the dollars to build a greater number of housing units.

Thaxton said getting a 9% LIHTC was akin to “winning the lottery, there are not many out there. The county, Sarasota, gets one per year.” According to Thaxton, the plan was to use the 9% LIHTC to pay down part of the program and make use of multiple 4% credits to open up eligibility for the 9% application. The smaller credits are easier to obtain and funds are delivered faster, making them attractive to use. Now, the projects will need more cash to buy down what they need.

“Now we have to figure out if we can find another funding source for the 9%, that makes the deadline a problem,” Thaxton said. The change means GCCF and the other partners involved in the construction effort have to check if they can keep the project to the 4% credits in order to make deadline. Still, the funding has gotten more complicated due to the shift. Thaxton said there was “not a simple, cut-and-dry answer” to the deadline challenges, but remained optimistic.

“We’re still confident we can meet the timeframe,” Thaxton said.

If they’re able to make the deadline and build the nearly 700 new housing units for the county, the benefit will assist Sarasota in what Commissioner Detert called one of its basic tenets.

“This certainly meets one of our basic tenets, which is to make Sarasota a great place to live,” the District 3 commissioner said at the BCC meeting on March 29. “So far, nobody, a lot of people can’t afford to live here, this helps alleviate that problem.”

None of the members of the Sarasota BCC voted against the proposal for using the $25 million to build affordable housing in the county, but the feasibility and cost remained concerns even as the commissioners voted.