Firefighters lifting a wall (copy)

Members of a Florida fire department join staff and volunteers from Habitat for Humanity during a home building day.

VENICE — The city of Venice is now eligible for state funds for affordable housing.

However, the hoops it would need to jump through to apply for them may be too burdensome or costly for the city to seek them.

Currently, the Sarasota Office of Housing and Community Development, a collaboration between the city of Sarasota and Sarasota County, administers state and federal housing funds throughout the county.

But Venice’s recent designation as a Community Development Block Grant Entitlement Community by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development also qualified it as a Direct Entitlement City in the State Housing Initiatives Partnership program.

The City Council has been talking for years about how to get money to address the city’s shortage of affordable housing.

“We are way behind,” Mayor John Holic said in a recent meeting before he left office. “One morning we’re going to wake up and we’re going to find out that the service workers we were relying on now are living in cities that have enough service work for them to do there.”

There’s already a shortage of restaurant workers, he said, and “it’s going to get worse if we don’t turn around and do something to make it better.”

It’s just not at all clear that going after state money separately from the OHCD — the city can’t do both — would be beneficial.

Allocations are based on population and Venice is the smallest city in the county. They also depend on legislative appropriations, and the Sadowski Trust, where the money comes from, is raided annually by the Legislature to fund other things.

There’s also the matter of the administrative structure the city would need to put into place, with a deadline of May 2 in order to apply for funds in Fiscal Year 2020-21.

It would need to adopt a Local Housing Assistance Plan; create a Local Affordable Housing Assistance Trust Fund and a Local Housing Assistance Program; designate someone to implement and administer them; and appoint an 11-member Affordable Housing Assistance Council.

City Manager Ed Lavallee said the city’s Finance Department would probably recommend a new hire in the Planning Department to oversee the program.

“I don’t think we’d be prepared this go-round to try to build up that kind of extra, extra, extra responsibility for staff,” Council Member Helen Moore said.

North Port had the same reaction, Holic said, and decided not to move forward this year.

It may not make sense for Venice to do it either, he said.

“That may not be the best utilization of resources at this time,” he said.

Council Member Chuck Newsom didn’t disagree, but he did sound another warning about the need to act sooner rather than later.

He said that he talked to a contractor about getting his pool cage replaced and was told that even if he signs a contract now, the work won’t be performed until mid-to-late February.

“They just don’t have the people,” he said.

“You think it’s hard to get people just to fix your house,” said Council Member Jeanette Gates, co-owner of Beechwood Builders. “Try running a business on it.”

The matter was referred to staff for analysis.


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