OUR POSITION: A summit or conference of various county and city government representatives to address the affordable housing issue might shed some light on possible solutions.

The difficulty getting elected officials to return phone calls to discuss affordable housing just may be indicative of the complexity of the problem and their frustrations. Finding rentals that median income families can

afford is probably the No. 1 problem facing Southwest Florida.

Just a week or so ago, Sarasota County commissioners expressed their frustrations with the lack of progress in tackling the problem. When they reached the topic of affordable housing on the agenda, a report exposed a failure to accomplish much when it came to altering codes and ordinances that would make it easier to build smaller homes and developments that average workers could afford.

“We are the policy makers and leaders who need to make this happen,” Commission Chair Nancy Detert said during a discussion on the topic.

Sarasota is working to change mobility, impact and capacity fees to allow for half-dwelling units (less than 750 square feet) that they hope will attract developers. And that is just one potential solution various government entities are talking about.

Charlotte County commissioners recently made two decisions they hope will address the lack of housing.

First, they voted 3-2 to loan $425,625 to the Punta Gorda Housing Authority to help build 56 affordable housing units on Airport Road in Punta Gorda. The county’s participation was needed to get the project approved.

Then, Charlotte commissioners voted 4-0 (Chris Constance was absent) to request proposals to build up to 600 low-income and market-rate apartments on the publicly owned Bachman tract on Veterans Boulevard. The somewhat controversial project means a developer could likely get the land for free in return for promising low-income and market-rate housing for at least 20 years, according to a Sun story by Betsy Calvert.

“Hospitals are having a hard time finding nurses due to housing costs,” Danny Nix, owner of Nix and Associates Real Estate and vice president of the Charlotte County Economic Development Partnership, said in addressing the commissioners. “Restaurants are having a hard time finding servers. Distributors are having a hard time finding workers . . .”

Government entities all over the state are searching for the same kind of answers. In Collier County we recently wrote that the County Commission approved a number of staff recommendations to create more affordable housing. In Broward County, commissioners are putting $200 million in a program to make it easier for median income workers to find a place to live.

We’re not just talking about people making minimum wage, although they certainly are suffering. People in the $40,000 pay range are caught in the affordable housing vise. And, with the average salary in Charlotte County at $38,000, there are thousands of individuals and hundreds of families either paying way too much for rent, or unable to live here.

We believe a conference of local governments is called for. Why can’t we get representatives from the Sarasota and Charlotte county commissions; the Punta Gorda, Sarasota and Venice city councils and the North Port City Commission to come together and discuss ideas they each might have? Maybe sharing information would spark an idea that could work. Or, perhaps an opportunity for more than one government entity to pool resources to build affordable housing might arise.

Charlotte County Commission Chair Ken Doherty agrees.

“The Regional Planning Council had a meeting two years ago, bringing together six counties to discuss (affordable housing),” Doherty said. “It is a problem for each of our communities, state and nationally. I think we could have a productive discussion if we got people together, each of them with some knowledge of the topic. You never know what idea may come up.”

Charlotte Commissioner Stephen R. Deutsch says the housing dilemma is vexing.

“There really is just not a whole lot we can do,” he said. “People don’t want to support subsidized housing. I’ve been talking about this since I got here. But, if we had (a conference) I would be glad to represent Charlotte County.”

We believe it’s worth a shot. Now, someone just has to step up and make it happen.

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