Bradenton Herald Hot apartment market in Bradenton-Sarasota a tight

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1 1 of 7 5/8/ :12 AM Bradenton Herald Hot apartment market in Bradenton-Sarasota a tight stretch for workers By MATT M. JOHNSON 3, 2015 Facebook Twitter Google Plus More Linkedin Reddit YouTube Print Anisley Mena is one of many people that are finding it increasingly difficult to find affordable housing in Manatee County as wages fall behind the price for an apartment. Mena currently lives in Eden Point Apartments on State Road 64. GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald Buy Photo

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4 4 of 7 5/8/ :12 AM MANATEE -- Five years of steady increases in apartment rent and a tight rental market has been good news to builders putting up luxury and market-rate complexes in Manatee and Sarasota counties. It's made living here a bigger stretch for working-class families and individuals who can't afford the rental rates in hundreds of new units under construction. A hot apartment market targeting tenants who can pay $1,200 up to $2,000 a month has made finding a rental a years-long proposition for those who cannot. It's also making the first apartment out of school a stretch for single professionals who make up an increasingly vocal segment of the two counties' estimated 79,000 renting households. "Eight hundred dollars-plus for a one-bedroom; that's quite expensive if you're not in your career and making decent money," said Lindsey Leech, a member of Generation X and a downtown Bradenton renter. "I would have liked to have gotten a bigger place." Several recent studies show rents across the United States are increasing faster than the capacity of many to earn enough to afford them. In Florida, the 19th-most expensive state in the nation for apartment rentals, it has become nearly impossible for renters in some cities and counties to find units that cost them no more than 30 percent of their incomes, a long-held standard in the market. Manatee County economic development officials have been pointing out the need for rental housing working people can afford. They say demand for workers in retail and hospitality industries place a growing segment of the county's working population in low-income brackets. The National Low Income Housing Coalition recently determined that the average fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Manatee and Sarasota counties is $1,011. That means a family has to earn at least $40,440 to afford housing at the 30-percent figure. More often than not, said William Russell, executive director of the Sarasota Housing Authority, families spend much more than that on housing. "Families on the cusp end up paying the market rent, where it is available," he said. "Sometimes that can be 50 to 60 percent of their income." The median household income in Manatee County is $47,876, according to the most recent U.S. Census estimate, which means half of the county's estimated 130,382 households earn less than that. Sarasota County boasts a median income of $49,052. The two counties are seeing hundreds of new apartment units being built in Lakewood Ranch and in the Bradenton and Sarasota downtowns. But, said Ellis Mitchell, executive director of the Bradenton Housing Authority, there is little in incentive for those projects to be built for renters needing rents in the $500 to $700 range. Development costs for a single apartment unit can range between $175,000 to $210,000, according to developers and industry research. "The cost of construction is not going to go down and wages are pretty stagnant," Mitchell said. Mitchell and others who watch the local rental market said there are more renters in the market than before the housing market collapsed in 2008 and But with up to 28 percent of Manatee and Sarasota households renting, the supply of affordable units is falling behind the number of low-wage workers who need housing. While the average worker wage in Manatee County sits at about $35,795, according to a county estimate, many new

5 5 of 7 5/8/ :12 AM jobs in the retail, manufacturing and even medical fields pay less. Struggle to find housing Low wages and high rents put working people such as Amber Jenkins in a bad position. The Sarasota single mother of three earns about $16,000 a year as a home health aide. She rents a three-bedroom apartment in the King Stone townhome complex in Newtown for $900 a month without rental assistance. King Stone opened in 2013 with 28 affordable units. Jenkins said she doesn't like the neighborhood, but she hasn't been able to find something in her price range elsewhere. The last time she moved, it took her two years to find a place she could afford. "For the quality of the neighborhood you want to live in, it's not easy to find a place that's affordable," Jenkins said. Like other affordable rentals in the area, King Stone has no vacancy. What that means for affordable housing developers is that there is a demand for their product. Sean Wilson, vice president of Tampa-based affordable housing developer Blue Sky Communities, believes his company will make a profit if it brings a planned 90-unit apartment building to downtown Bradenton. The city lacks vacancy in its current inventory of affordable and workforce housing. "Based on the market analysis we did, there is a strong demand," Wilson said. "Those other affordable communities are full, which indicates a strong demand among people who make $10 to $15 dollars an hour but who want to live in a nice new apartment." While construction costs would be similar to market-rate projects, the Blue Sky apartments would be 80 percent funded by federal housing credits. That will allow Blue Sky to keep rents between $561 and $779 a month for one- to three-bedroom apartments, Wilson said. Even if those units are built, they would be the first of thousands that will likely be needed. Anisley Mena, a 24-year-old recent college graduate who works on workforce housing issues as member of the Neighborhood Services staff for Manatee County, said her own housing illustrates how rental prices are outstripping wages. She is paying about $800 per month for a two-bedroom apartment she found at affordable housing complex Eden Point. She earns $27,000 a year, an income level she has to verify with complex management regularly so she can continue to rent there. Her apartment is several miles east of where she works in Bradenton. She would have preferred to live in the city's urban center, but a similar unit there would run in the $1,500 range. She would have also preferred to live in what she considers to be the more vibrant urban area downtown. "I like the price for the space," she said of her apartment. "But I don't feel like I belong here." Leech, who worked on workforce housing issues before recently leaving her former job with the Manatee Chamber of Commerce to work in real estate, said Mena represents a growing group of young professionals. "I feel for the kids right out of college," she said. "We want the young professionals to live downtown." Market forces support rents Market forces may not be strong enough to convince apartment developers to build new affordable or workforce units. New construction is most active in downtown markets and near Lakewood Ranch, where developers said the renters value the locations enough to pay higher rent. With vacancies at about 3.4 percent across Manatee County as of the end of 2014 and developers realizing an average 6.3-percent annual return across all multifamily projects, owners are finding plenty of profit at market rate. Just before the new Riversong Apartments in downtown Bradenton opened earlier this year, its property manager, James Victor, said that its $975 to $1,800 monthly rents were no barrier to filling every one of the complex's 179 units.

6 6 of 7 5/8/ :12 AM "With our rates staying the same and with what we're offering, it's a sure win," he said. Manatee County is restarting its efforts to incentivize some affordable multi-family construction. Cheri Coryea, director of the Neighborhood Services department, said the county has been short on dollars. Prior to 2009, the county received $2.3 million from the state to offer developers to build affordable apartments. The Legislature took that money away to balance the budget for four years. Funding this year was $1.3 million. Coryea said the county needs more. "We are behind," she said. The county is also ramping up an ongoing conversation about affordable housing. A team of millennial county employees working through Neighborhood Services have gathered five months worth of research and commentary on rental housing affordability, which will be presented to the board of commissioners on May 5. Mena, who will be part of that presentation, said she has hope that county officials and developers will find a way to put more affordable rental units on the market. "What I've come to realize is that there's been a lot of talk about it, but now everybody is starting to look at it together," she said. "But it's not going to be tomorrow." Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at , or on Facebook Twitter Google Plus More Linkedin Reddit YouTube Print Join The Conversation Bradenton Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts. Commenting FAQs Terms of Service

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