The lack of affordable housing in Manatee and Sarasota counties is a major obstacle for police departments trying to attract new recruits to Southwest Florida, law enforcement officials said Thursday. .
At a law enforcement roundtable hosted by U.S. Representative Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, sheriffs and police chiefs lamented the negative impact of the housing market on the recruitment process.
The median price of single-family homes in the Bradenton area has risen about 30% to $480,000 in the past year alone, according to the Realtor Association of Sarasota and Manatee. And the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton area rose about 45%, to $1,646, according to a report from the online Apartment List market.
“How can anyone absorb this?” Buchanan talked about rent increases. “It’s just shocking to me.”
At the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, vital civilian jobs, including forensic technicians and communications dispatchers, are not being filled, according to Col. Brian Woodring. And he says the housing crisis is to blame.
“There is no affordable housing in Sarasota County,” Woodring said. “A young adult entering the workforce at a young age simply cannot afford to live here.”
Woodring said the agency is considering expanding its take-out policy to attract more recruits.
“Manatee and Sarasota’s housing problem is my problem,” Longboat Key Acting Police Chief George Turner said.
Turner said all of his officers live off the island and face long commute times. Now, with the shortage of affordable housing, some new hires are choosing to live even further away from their jobs. Turner noted one employee living as far away as Dade City due to housing affordability.
Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan said housing-related staffing shortages could impact public safety. Bevan suggested leaders and developers explore creating affordable housing specifically for first responders.
Woodring said existing residents may be reluctant to move into affordable housing in an area. But he said the developers could help remove the stigma by announcing that first responders, teachers and other community members who “raise quality of life standards” live there.
Several bipartisan efforts currently underway in Congress could help ease some of the financial strain on law enforcement, first responders and educators. The “HELPER Act” would provide mortgage financing assistance for all of these professions. And a House bill, HJR 1, would create a new property tax exemption for several groups, including first responders, teachers and serving military.
Buchanan said he would continue discussions with developers on how to bring more affordable housing to the area.
Law enforcement officials share their concerns
Another major safety issue in the Bradenton-Sarasota area is a rise in the number of illegally held guns, local law enforcement officials said Thursday. They said the problem was largely the result of increased gun sales during the pandemic and people leaving unsecured guns in their homes and unlocked cars.
Other issues discussed at Thursday’s roundtable included the persistence of fentanyl-related crimes in the region and the increase in violence against law enforcement over the past year.
The “Thin Blue Line Act,” which has been introduced by Buchanan in the House and Senator Pat Toomey in the Senate every year since 2017, would make the death penalty more likely for those who attempt to injure or kill police officers, firefighters and first responders in and out of the workplace. Buchanan introduced the bill again this year, and law enforcement officials gathered at Thursday’s conference showed their support for the measure.