The cost of single-family homes for sale and apartment units for rent are both skyrocketing.
It has forced companies and communities to start getting creative to find workable solutions for their needs. For example, big companies like Disney, as well as one local restaurant operator, have said they are considering plans to build their own affordable housing developments with apartments specifically for their workforce.
In Sarasota, there's now a push by local leaders to get some developers to crunch down on apartment size to accommodate more units.
Legacy Oaks, a development currently under construction, is one of the first examples of this experiment. Using the provisions and incentives of a 2019 rezoning ordinance that allows for higher-density developments, the owners of Legacy Oaks are building smaller apartments for people to live in. The developer hopes the 750 square-foot units will be a part of the solution to the affordable housing crisis in Sarasota.
"We looked at the incentives and other stuff and it made more sense for us to build twice as many units and obviously the rents are going to be a lot lower," said Dave Lance, owner of Legacy Oaks Apartments.
After he scraped his original plans to build 44 large apartment units on the property located on the 800 block of S. Beneva, Lance decided to spilt up his floor plans and double the amount instead.
In a few months, once completed, 88 units of a one-bedroom apartment squeezed into 750 square footage will be coming on board as the Sarasota housing market struggles with a supply of affordable options. Already, there are more than 100 people on the waiting list according to the owner.
"It definitely is a gain for the area," Lance said. "If we would've gone the other way, we would've just built two and three-bedroom luxury apartments starting at $2,000 or $2,500 a month but we will be way under that."
In late March, county leaders approved nearly $25 million dollars to fund affordable housing projects throughout the county to provide approximately 700 units.
The smaller units are targeting people who make up the county's labor force including first-time renters, students, hospitality industry workers as well as essential and public service workers like nurses, police, firefighters and school and district workers.
"750 square feet is fine for somebody starting out—one person," County Commissioner Alan Maio said. "It's actually fine for somebody starting out two people. It's fine for a couple with a brand new baby in a bassinet."
Maio, who is the chair of the board, said he would ideally like to see developers build 1000 of the smaller units in high-density developments with low rent over a long period every year to help start cracking at the problem.
"We need the entrepreneurs who are ready, that are skilled in affordable housing to come in and start giving us programs," Maio said.
Affordable Housing Advocates said anything that brings cheaper housing onto the market for low and median-income earners is welcomed.
"The problem is that we are producing demand for affordable housing by the thousand and creating supply by the 10s," said Jon Thaxton, of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation.
Thaxton said building high-density units cannot occur in isolation from other opportunities to increase supply.
"We need to be 'profitizing' through incentive subsidies and regulation of the construction of affordable units in Sarasota County," Thaxton said. "The incentives can come in many ways increases such as density increases, reduction or the elimination of impact fees, the establishment of an affordable housing trust fund that would have money available to offset the cost that developers cannot afford to absorb."
"There are many opportunities out there to attract affordable housing developers into Sarasota County but we're just now beginning to speak and Earnest about those steps that need to be taken," he added.
In the absence of community leaders being able to snap their fingers and have cheaper housing units appear, the high-density plans—albeit from profit-driven private sector businesses—still serve as a good solution-focused contribution to a collective, moral and economic problem.
"The Lower opening price point apartment is kind of what we do I mean that's kind of our history and saw you know it actually makes sense for us to go that direction," Lance said.
The units are Legacy Oaks developments are not subsidized and people will still have to qualify as normal to rent.