Friday, September 21, 2007

Habitat sets goal for affordable homes: Group announces plans to build 500 homes in just 5 years.

Brock Leach doesn't want to see economic apartheid in Manatee and Sarasota counties.

His solution in stopping the future development of walled communities ringed by low-income housing? Having a clear, shared vision for the community and encouraging a generosity of spirit.

Leach, former chief executive officer at Tropicana and now president of Sarasota Habitat for Humanity, shared his goals with a packed audience at the annual meeting of the Suncoast Workforce Board on Thursday. The meeting was held at the Lakewood Ranch Country Club.

Sarasota Habitat has an ambitious goal of building 500 homes in five years in a way that builds on community collaborations between private, nonprofit and government entities. The aim is to provide affordable housing for residents while creating a sense of community, Leach said.

"We want to be a neighborhood, not just homes," he said.

Each of the seven communities being planned by Habitat are within three miles of downtown Sarasota and will have children educational centers, playgrounds and green space.

Habitat expects to close on property for Cohen Way, a development of 50-75 townhomes in the Rosemary District, on Monday, Leach said.

Examples of public and private partnerships, he said, include Lion's Gate, developer of the Presidium project in downtown Sarasota, donating land for housing and the Sarasota County Commission approving a plan to provide Habitat with a $5 million grant.

Lion's Gate, with its donation, has stipulated that its employees have "first right of refusal" on the townhomes being planned. Leach encouraged other businesses to enter into a similar agreement with Habitat.

The organization has raised $13.5 million so far for the $50 million needed for the housing projects, Leach said. A capital campaign is expected to be launched early next year to raise the additional funds.

Pat Glass wins Workforce Leadership Award

Pat Glass, former Manatee County commissioner, is the recipient of this year's Workforce Leadership Award for her support and efforts toward affordable housing.

Glass received the award Thursday at the Suncoast Workforce Board's annual meeting.

"She has been instrumental in pulling together community leaders to address the critical need of affordable housing," said Peter French with the University of South Florida and a Suncoast Workforce Board member.

"This is where the real world is," Glass said about the majority of local residents who need affordable housing.

"The people most in need are the people we most need."

By Jennifer Rich Bradenton Herald

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