Church group calls for affordable housing in Bradenton area

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A conglomerate of 15 churches in Manatee County have come together to create the organization Stronger Together Reaching Equality Across Manatee (STREAM), which has called on local authorities to support policy changes that secure more affordable housing and rethink reform of criminal justice. Nearly 600 people attended the group’s Action Nehemiah meeting on Monday, April 4, 2022, at Southeast High School.

More than a dozen religious institutions have banded together to ask Manatee County leaders for their commitment to criminal justice reform and more affordable housing.

Stronger Together Reaching Equality Across Manatee (STREAM) came together last year with the support of 15 different local churches. The organization held more than 40 meetings to hear the main concerns of its parishioners.

Two issues quickly stood out, executives say. There are not enough affordable housing options and the court’s approach to criminal records has hampered job opportunities, congregants said.

STREAM invited several local officials to Monday night’s Nehemiah Action event at Southeast High School, which drew hundreds of people. They called on each of them to support proposals to improve the criminal justice system and add more affordable housing options.

“If we want to change our way of being, there could be tensions with our officials. They may feel uncomfortable, and that’s okay,” said Reverend Bobbie Blackburn of Trinity Lutheran Church. “That’s what God requires of us.”

A different approach to criminal justice

After sharing testimonials about residents being denied jobs based on their arrest records, STREAM urged law enforcement and court officials to voice support for a new diversion program before arrest on non-violent misdemeanor charges. Similar programs are already in place in other counties, such as Pinellas and Hillsborough.

“In this country and in this state, we have one of the highest incarceration rates in the world and some of the harshest sentences in the world,” said Larry Eger, public defender for the 12th Judicial Circuit. “There must be a philosophical shift. Punishment does not equal rehabilitation.

The proposal also won support from State’s Attorney Ed Brodsky, who is already working to implement the pre-arrest diversion program in Sarasota County.

“It’s the right approach to criminal justice,” Brodsky told the crowd of nearly 600 people.

The price of rent and home ownership also caught STREAM’s attention. The organization’s outreach has found families who are just a paycheck away from homelessness.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, costs have continued to rise. According to RentHub, the average rent in Manatee County has increased by as much as $400 over the past 12 months, depending on zip code.

“We have heard from parents whose adult children have moved back to live with them because as young professionals they cannot find affordable housing. Others told of landlords raising rents by hundreds of dollars,” STREAM wrote in a report detailing its findings. “Tens of thousands of people cannot afford to pay their rent despite working full time.

In response to the current housing crisis, STREAM asked the Manatee Board of County Commissioners to commit to developing a plan to add at least 500 affordable housing units each year.

Is rent of $1,600 a month affordable?

County Commissioner George Kruse, who has been singled out by other commissioners to seek solutions to the housing crisis, told the crowd he would support STREAM’s affordable housing goal.

“The reality is that we set the policy. We’re not building affordable housing, so that’s obviously an asterisk to what I’m saying here. However, our policies are what determine whether people can actually build here affordably,” Kruse noted. “Where I think we’re lacking in the county, we’ve been very lax in how we handle affordable housing.”

Going forward, Kruse suggested revising county policy to only offer incentives to builders who work to create truly affordable housing.

“We try to encourage our developers to build affordable housing through our policies, but the reality is that our overall plan makes it so cushioned that it’s almost not even affordable housing we’re asking for,” Kruse explained. “When I look at our rules, it takes my breath away.”

Under current guidelines, density bonuses can be awarded to affordable housing developments that provide a family of four with a total income of $92,000.

Under the county’s definition, a one-bedroom apartment for a monthly rent of $1,600 is considered affordable housing, Kruse said.

Kruse said he would advocate for a reduction in the income requirement to target low-wage workers, such as retail workers, nurses, teachers and police officers.

“I can’t force that, but what I can do is make sure the incentives we give people match the needs of the community. These are ways to bring STREAM to the number of affordable housing units they seek to achieve. »

The next STREAM event is a Joshua Assembly scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Monday, May 16. A location has not yet been selected. For more information, visit www.STREAMManatee.org or call (727) 806-1767.

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A conglomerate of 15 churches in Manatee County have come together to create the organization Stronger Together Reaching Equality Across Manatee (STREAM), which has called on local authorities to support policy changes that secure more affordable housing and rethink reform of criminal justice. Father Glen Graczyk addresses nearly 600 people at the group’s Nehemiah Action Meeting on Monday, April 4, 2022, at Southeast High School. Ryan Callihan [email protected]

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A conglomerate of 15 churches in Manatee County have come together to create the organization Stronger Together Reaching Equality Across Manatee (STREAM), which has called on local authorities to support policy changes that secure more affordable housing and rethink reform of criminal justice. Nearly 600 people attended the group’s Action Nehemiah meeting on Monday, April 4, 2022, at Southeast High School. Ryan Callihan [email protected]

Ryan Callihan is the county reporter for the Bradenton Herald, covering local government and politics. On weekends, it also covers the latest news. Ryan graduated from USF St. Petersburg.
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