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Meeting held to discuss next steps for CHR program

December 6, 2017
By MEGHAN McCOY ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

After a lengthy discussion last week, the Below Market Rate Housing Review Sub-Committee agreed to come back early next year to discuss potential property locations, income requirements for the Community Housing and Resources program and mixed use ability for businesses.

Community Housing and Resources Board President Richard Johnson said they have found by having this dialogue, they have become clearer of where they are and where they would like to go in the future.

"We are seeing additional support and recognition of the program and the things we bring to our community. The support of our community is critically important. I don't do this for me just to feel good about the home I live in, or the community I live in," Johnson said. "I do this for the folks that live and work in our community that otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity to do so. It makes me proud of what this organization is able to accomplish with the help of the City of Sanibel, the Planning Department, Planning Commission and subcommittee to be able to do that."

By being a forward thinking community, Johnson said they thought about affordable housing a long time ago.

"We are coming up on a 40 year anniversary with this program," he said. "I think where we started and where we ended up today, and more importantly where we are going to go in the future, I think is critically important."

While looking at the saying on the wall in City Hall, he said they talk about how they cherish cultural, social and economic diversity. Johnson said not only are they going to endeavor to maintain that, but grow the diversity.

"I think what we do as an organization, and as a community, speaks of that diversity exactly," Johnson said.

In 2015, CHR partnered with Florida Gulf Coast University to do a survey to figure out exactly where they were, which revealed they were fairly close to where they thought.

"We took a look at how it meets the needs of the affordable workforce. We took a look at the role of the essential workers and that is something we speak a lot about," Johnson said. "We also took a look at senior housing and what those needs were."

In other words they took a look at the low and moderate income levels and what that housing needs will be over the next five to 10 years.

CHR Executive Director Melissa Rice said the needs assessment showed that they are meeting a portion of the affordable housing needs on the island. She said when considering Sanibel alone, 47.8 percent of the renters, 187 renters, are paying more than 30 percent of their income.

"This is showing that there is a clear unmet need for affordable housing," Rice said of the 187 renters outside of their program. "In our program we have 95 people today. So, 187 people on Sanibel are paying too much rent for their housing."

In addition, there is a large number of employees traveling to and from Sanibel, causing significant needs on the infrastructures.

Johnson said they recognize not only through the needs assessment, but through the waiting list they have established, and those requesting workforce housing, that there is a true need for additional units.

"We targeted a 3 percent value in total homeowners and we have not reached that 3 percent as of yet," he said. "In order to get to that 3 percent, we need 33 additional units."

Over the past two years, CHR has had more applicants than space to put people. The demand is a handicap because as it grows there are not suitable options for the workforce.

Rice said during the 2015-2016 fiscal year, CHR had 40 people on the waiting list. She said they were only able to house 15 of those people. During the past fiscal year that ended in September there were 45 people on the waiting list, with the ability of only housing 12 of those individuals.

Out of the 50 single persons, there are only 15 studio and one bedrooms units in the program.

"There is a need for the program to expand," Johnson said. "We have a predominant need in the single person (bedroom) household. That is where the growth is taking place. That is good news to me because that is a relatively small accommodation residential dwelling unit as compared to being able to go out and house a family."

In addition, he said they are housing many of their single bedroom households in a two bedroom unit.

"By expanding the program and developing some single person units, we'll transition those folks from a two bedroom unit to a single bedroom unit. Then we open up some two bedroom units that we don't have to build. They are already existing in our housing stock," Johnson said.

There are currently 88 units in the CHR program, 74 of which are renter occupied. There are 14 homes in the limited equity ownership housing units.

"Fifty-four of these units are single family and duplex, 34 are in a multi family category," Johnson said. "We are currently at the 2.6 of the residential housing stock."

Commissioner Dirk deWerff began the discussion by asking how long the wait time is for a single person when they apply.

Rice replied that it all depends on when someone moves out and a vacancy becomes available.

"It does take us four to six weeks from the initial application to get their approval for the program," she said. "That's because we do a pretty extensive verification."

Once accepted into the program, it can be as quick as a month to as long as a year to move into the unit.

Another question deWerff brought forth was the length of occupancy one has, which is an average three and a half years.

"It is not designed to be a lifelong housing solution. It's really an opportunity to get someone onto the island and into a rental unit and hopefully get them beyond that. It's one of the reasons we added our limited equity ownership program so we have a chance for folks to come onboard as a renter and potentially graduate from a rental program to a homeowner program," Johnson said.

Commissioner Karen Storjohann spoke on behalf of income distribution that was provided in their packet. She took the liberty of reordering the data and presented it to everyone at the meeting.

Storjohann said the top third of the 12 state brackets of income on Sanibel represents 53.9 percent of the population, compared to the state's 20.8 percent. The middle range, she said the state is 39.6 in those four categories, compared to Sanibel's 24.1 percent. On the low end, the state is 39.4 percent, and Sanibel is 21.1 percent.

She brought a thought forth after stating that the idea would probably get her into trouble. Storjohann suggested that some housing be located above businesses.

"Right now we have businesses that do not have second stories above them that are housing, which is something that exists to a certain extent here on Sanibel, but was not done universally above the businesses. If, and it would require quite some changes, but if it were possible for those businesses to redevelop with rental units designated for businesses above them, would CHR be able to administer those, so it wouldn't become a burden, but a financial benefit," Storjohann said.

Board Chair Holly Smith replied that the hypothetical is not something they could really look at during the Tuesday's meeting. She said they are looking at possibilities within the limits of the Sanibel Plan.

Planning Director Jim Jordan said because the way the density is calculated not too many properties would take advantage of that provision.

Commissioner Phillip Marks said although not apparent, they do have some of the mixed uses on the island where a business has a living area above the business where employees live.

"I think maybe more of the business owners would like it because they would like to get rent. That's how they would repay putting a second story on something that they wouldn't have," Marks said.

He went on to say that he thinks they should be careful with renters who retire.

"It should be in my opinion for people who have a business, or a job on this island. Once a retiree that is 71 years old moves in the only way they are going to go out is in a body bag. They have had a wonderful safe place to live. They have a limited income and we can only charge 30 percent of it, so if they are living on Social Security it means that maybe their rent is $300 a month. We can't do anything about that. Whereas a young couple comes in, or a young individual, this person will hopefully start moving up the chain in terms of responsibility and his salary and hopefully move out," Marks said.

He said they need to consider that people could maybe gift their home when they finally move away, or pass away.

deWerff asked if CHR has partnered with any churches in the area because often times they have a very mature population of people who are looking to do things for others.

"This could be something they could be very open to. That might be another avenue that you might want to approach," he said.

Commissioner John Talmage said he chairs a housing task force for the county for affordable housing.

"The current population growth that we are experiencing, both in the county and other metropolitan areas like the City of Fort Myers, we are going to hit a million people in Lee County by 2033, which means we will be producing 132,000 new units of housing on, or north of Alico Road," he said. "For the first time we are seeing Sanibel workforce coming as far away as North Fort Myers. The Cape has now gotten much too expensive for our workforce as well."

In addition, Talmage said Lee County currently has the longest commute distance in any county in the state of Florida.

He said they cannot find construction cost below $250 a square foot, so materials have gone up 20 percent since Hurricane Irma and labor has gone up 25 to 30 percent.

"Maybe we can find the spots, but we might not be able to afford to buy them, or build them and that becomes a real challenge and a miss opportunity," Talmage said.

What scares him the most is demographic distribution. Today 24 percent of the Sanibel population is 75 years or older and the year 2040 is projected to be more than 50 percent.

"We have challenges on this island. We need to lead with CHR and FISH. We need to lead with those supportive organizations that do their job so well. We need to understand what this island could look like in 22 years," Talmage said. "How do you support 3,300 people that are 75 years or older?"



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