SARASOTA, Fla. — Looking for an affordable place in the Tampa Bay area is difficult, or impossible for some. But, affordable housing advocates in Manatee and Sarasota counties are looking to adopt a Nashville initiative that they say could help thousands of local families.
The initiative is called, “Low Barrier Housing Collective.” It brings social service organizations together with local leaders and landlords. Participating landlords receive incentives in exchange for lowering rent and/or removing rules put in place to make it difficult for low-income people to rent an apartment.
“If we can bring something like that here, that can be a game-changer,” Lauren Bowen said. “It’s better than having to tell people there’s no housing here.”
Bowen is the project manager for the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness. She’s the one who introduced the idea of using the Low Barrier Housing Collective to her organization and other nonprofits in the area.
“See the results from Nashville,” she said. “This could really work here.”
Nashville launched its initiative last fall. They had more than 100 landlords signed on, and they’ve been able to help at least 68% of the people who reached out to them looking for help.
According to Chris Johnson, the CEO of the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness they’ve seen a 25% increase in families and individuals seeking homelessness services for the first time.
“It’s just a whole new group who never had to deal with this before,” he said. “These are teachers, nurses, and first-responders. These are teachers who are homeless and still going to school to work every day.”
The United Way ranks Sarasota and Manatee as two of the counties with the fastest increasing rent in the nation. It doesn’t seem to be going down so, Johnson said “we have to find ways to help people here.”
Suncoast Partnership is part of the Continuum of Care Network, with several other nonprofit organizations. They are working together, with local officials to figure out how the Low Barrier Housing Collective will work.
Nashville’s initiative works by using funds from federal pandemic relief, rental assistance funds, charity donations, and rental vouchers like Section 8. Landlords are also given several incentives like a sign-on bonus for participating, $1,000 on top of the deposit to cover possible damages, $2,000 in lost rent if a lease is terminated, accident to community mediations with tenants, an online database to share information with more than two dozen nonprofit organizations, and a bigger applicant pool.
“A program like that will truly help thousands in our area,” Chief Operating Officer with Community Assisted and Supported Living (CASL) PJ Brooks said.
CASL primarily helps adults with mental health or developmental issues find housing. But, due to the current state of the local housing market and rent prices, “we’re now getting people that would never be clients.”
“This is close to becoming a major crisis,” he said. “It takes a village and right now our village is struggling. We need to all step up and work together.”
Johnson and Bowen said they need to get landlords on board, and once that happens they will launch their version of the Low Barrier Housing Collective as soon as possible.
Any property owners, management companies/ Landlords interested in participating or getting more information about the initiative you can contact the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness at: (941) 955-8987 or click this link, here.