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Sarasota County considers new approach to the issue of affordable housing

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SARASOTA CO., FL - Each year, the First Congregational United Church of Christ joins dozens of other churches in choosing a social topic to focus on for the year. It's part of a group known as Sarasota United for Responsibility and Equity (SURE).

This year the topic is affordable housing, and Pastor Wes Bixby says more than any other issue, this hit close to home.

"These are the folks sitting next to us in the pew so we hear their stories on Sunday morning," said Bixby.  

As housing demand increases and prices surge, Bixby says he sees a lot of conversation with little action. 

"We've kind of had this vision as a county that we wanted affordable housing for the last ten years, but we haven't seen much progress on it," said Bixby.

Bixby and others took the issue to Commissioner Paul Caragiulo, who is now spearheading a plan to encourage more affordable housing. The final report outlines 18 recommendations, ranging from placing affordable housing near employment, to increasing density, to encouraging businesses to increase wages.

County staff members have until September 1 to return to the commission with a proposal. Caragiulo says it's a tight deadline, because it's such an important issue. He says affordable housing is central to several other issues ranging from homelessness to quality of life.  

SURE has also approached Sarasota's City Commission with the same issue. The city commission is expected to discuss it in the coming weeks. Bixby and his congregation are optimistic they will see action as the need for a solution is urgent.

"Every day that we wait," said Bixby, "more and more folks are facing that. It's not just about the numbers."