Robert Young is a lawyer in downtown Sarasota with no plans of leaving the area anytime soon, but that wasn’t always the case.
“I didn’t have the job that I wanted, and I couldn’t afford to live here,” said Young. “I was crashing on people’s couches. I was trying to make ends meet. It was just so expensive.”
Now Young has a place to live on the outskirts of the county, but he says he would much prefer living downtown.
“It looks very different from downtown,” said Young, “which is supposed to be a cultural, vibrant, heart of the city, and yet the majority of the people that are less than 90 are living out here.”
That sentiment is echoed by many young people working in Sarasota. A recent survey from the Young Professionals Group found that nearly 50 percent of respondents are considering leaving Sarasota, because they can’t find affordable housing.
Local entrepreneur Jesse Biter saw that first hand, when he realized many of his employees were commuting nearly an hour to come to work in downtown Sarasota.
“I asked them ‘Why are you commuting 45 minutes from Lakewood Ranch?’ and they said there was just no affordable living in downtown Sarasota,” said Biter.
After looking into the issue, Biter says it’s largely due to the city’s density rule, allowing only 50 apartments per acre, a regulation that he says forces developers to build larger and more expensive apartments and homes.
“Fifty units an acre does not make sense when you’re trying to build affordable housing, or attainable housing, or just reasonable housing,” said Biter. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
Whatever the reason for the lack of affordable housing, Young says it’s a serious issue that may hinder growth, development and innovation in Sarasota.
“I can see the group of thinkers who are trying to innovate and do all of that and it’s already diminishing just in my small circle,” said Young. He added: “I can’t imagine how that would be played out on a larger scale across Sarasota County, if we don’t act to try to make it better. “