VENICE – Family Promise of South Sarasota County will receive some support from the city of Venice in its effort to purchase 10 cottages off of Substation Road to use as transitional rental housing as part of its Pathways Home Project.
The five board members attending Tuesday voted unanimously to direct city staff to research options for funding support.
Family Promise has a deadline of Dec. 15 to raise $2.5 million to purchase the cottages from developer Mike Miller.
As part of a presentation on the project, Steve Boone, current president of the Family Promise board of directors, asked the city for a $100,000 grant, in addition to waiving impact fees, permit fees and a 10-year tax abatement on city property taxes.
Family Promise is a nonprofit, Boone said, but explained that, “because we are charging a fee for people to live in these units, we are not tax exempt.”
Sarasota County collects an impact fee for parks and mobility fees for roads, while the city of Venice collects impact fees for general government and solid waste, as well as fire and police services.
Since Family Promise started its public fundraising drive to buy the cottages, it has received a $250,000 grant from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, as well as a commitment from Sarasota County for $250,000 in grant from money raised through the sale of escheated lots.
In all Boone noted, the nonprofit has about $1 million raised for the purchase. In addition, there have been discussions with another area foundation for a short-term loan to fund the purchase in December, so Family Promise can get families in homes by Christmas.
Boone also outlined how support for the project would fit into sections of the city’s comprehensive plan that called for the city to work with groups that seek to foster solutions to the affordable housing problem.
Council members were all receptive to the idea of helping Family Promise.
“There’s a need,” said Council Member Mitzie Fiedler, who seconded a motion by Nick Pachota to direct staff to research options. “There’s a need here for the children and the families and the communities.”
The motion passed 5-0, with council members Brian Kelly and Joe Neunder out on excused absences.
Fiedler cited the comprehensive plan and precedent, pointing to the council’s previous allocation of $500,000 over a two-year period to support the construction of Venetian Walk II – a 52-unit apartment complex that offers rents at below market rates.
Praise for measured growth
Council Member Helen Moore praised the growth of Family Promise over the past few years.
“I’ve seen it consistently build, step by step, never getting too far ahead of itself," Moore said. “I have the highest regard for this organization.”
Jennifer Fagenbaum, the executive director of Family Promise since 2016, detailed that progress in a presentation.
The nonprofit started in 2015 and sheltered six homeless families through a cooperative effort with area churches. That grew to 20 families in 2016 and 24 families in 2017.
In 2018, the nonprofit added homeless prevention to its mission and served 58 families. That grew to 174 families in 2019, and it served 162 families in 2020.
In 2021, Family Promise relocated to space at Venice Presbyterian Church and added a Home Goods Pantry.
The development the nonprofit hopes to buy, Parkside Cottages, includes two one-bedroom cottages and eight two-bedroom cottages at 550 Substation Road in Venice, just off of U.S. 41 Bypass.
Participants in the program – which includes everything from financial counseling to education so they can qualify for higher-paying jobs – would pay a program fee of $600 per month to rent a one-bedroom cottage or $800 a month for a two-bedroom cottage.
A coordinator would work with families on a one- to two-year plan to take steps toward self-sufficiency, so they can move into market-rate homes.
The presentation included a video testimonial from Gary and Shandi Williams, who worked through the existing Family Promise program and have been self-sufficient for the past two years.
Fagenbaum noted that Shandi Williams is going to be a member of the nonprofit’s advisory board.
During public comment, Don O’Connell, who owns several apartments on the island of Venice and said he can afford to rent them out at affordable rates because he purchased the buildings in the 1970s, urged the council to do more to promote the construction of affordable housing.
“I’m happy to see somebody stepping forward,” O’Connell said, and added that the Family Promise request should be supported.
Mike Pachota, representing the Venice Pier Group, also highlighted the need for affordable rental units, especially since many rental homes were sold by their owners over the past year, because they had doubled in value.
Former Sarasota County Commissioner Charles Hines spoke in support of Family Promise as filling in the gap as a partner to operate the project.
“I commend them for doing this big step for our organization and our community to fill that gap (and say), 'we will own it, we will manage it, but to make it work we need the support of our community,'” Hines said.
In addition to this endeavor, Family Promise and Miller have been discussing partnering on a 30-unit development he has planned in Sarasota County. Fagenbaum said other developers have reached out, too.
In other action
Also on Tuesday, the Venice City Council:
Approved on 5-0 vote the certification of the Nov. 2 election that saw Helen Moore win her second term in Seat 3 and Jim Boldt his first term in Seat 4. Both Moore and Boldt were subsequently sworn in for their seats for the remainder of the meeting. Boldt succeeds Rich Cautero, who did not seek a third term.
Voted Nick Pachota the new vice mayor on a split, 3-2 vote, with Boldt, Moore and Pachota voting in his favor. Mayor Ron Feinsod and Mitzie Fiedler both voted for Fiedler. That vote failed along the same lines, 3-2.
Approved the purchase of a 4.9-acre site on the south side of Laurel Road that would be developed into a park for northeast Venice. The next step for the city is to ask Sarasota County to allocate park impact fees to the purchase.
• Approved on a 4-1 vote the second reading of an ordinance annexing a five-acre tract on the south side of East Venice Avenue, west of Auburn Road. Subsequent ordinances changing the future land use designation from Sarasota County Medium Density Residential to city of Venice Moderate Density Residential and the current zoning from Sarasota County Open Use Estate to city of Venice RMF-2 passed on 4-1 votes, with Feinsod in dissent. Feinsod, who previously voted for the annexation had wanted to assign the land a commercial designation.
Earle Kimel primarily covers south Sarasota County for the Herald-Tribune and can be reached at email@example.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription to the Herald-Tribune.
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Venice to support Family Promise effort to buy cottages