The Sanford Lofts project is being developed by a minority-owned company. Unfortunately, statements, incidents and events point to potential class, race and age discrimination as the reason for the troubles.
Florida SPECS is a minority-controlled, nonprofit organization that is working to improve often blighted and underserved communities across Florida. They are based in Sanford. The organization has been recognized for helping to improve the quality of life for people in Orange, Osceola, Volusia and Duval counties. However, it is in its hometown where it seems to be least appreciated, even unwanted.
The entire board of directors from Florida SPECS is from Seminole County. Most members are from Sanford. When an opportunity to serve in Seminole County came to the operators of Florida SPECS, they jumped at it, excited to finally give back to the community in which they lived and were raised.
Seminole County received funding to build housing for low-income senior citizens. Florida SPECS won the bid to do what became known as the Sanford Lofts project three years ago.
Once their plans were approved, they purchased the land and got ready to commence building. However, they have had nothing but contention and strife from some members of the staffs of Seminole County and the City of Sanford ever since.
They were asked to change the plans numerous times. What seemed to be unnecessary requirements were put upon them. For example, they were required to purchase insurance for the land on which the housing is to be built, before anything has been built.
However, they complied with all the rules and submitted to all the requirements. Even staff from the department of Housing and Urban Development (who oversees this funding provided to the county) said the requirement to maintain insurance on an empty piece of land is ridiculous. Florida SPECS used its own money to make all the changes and purchase the land and insurance.
Why such a hassle has been given to a hometown company is a mystery. When people suggested to the members of Florida SPECS that it might be because of the color of their skin, they balked. Even when a white former government official told them that their problems were due to skin color (and even offered to take over the project for them so that it would go through more smoothly), they didn’t want to believe that this would happen in the town that they love. Even when the former mayor, Linda Kuhn, blatantly said that affordable housing would attract unwanted residents, the idealistic members of Florida SPECS didn’t want to sound any alarms that would damage the reputation of Sanford and Seminole County.
Kuhn and others came to a public meeting held in April 2011 to “voice their concerns” about the project. However, their “concerns” amounted to nothing more than a litany of elitist, racist and classist attacks against the Sanford Lofts and the very people who built and live in Sanford. These citizens said that they did not want to attract seniors or low-income people to downtown. Well, exactly who do they think might be visiting the farmers markets, stores and antique shops in downtown Sanford, rich teenagers?
Now the project is in jeopardy. A deadline is looming for Florida SPECS to meet with the Sanford City Commission. They have requested to be placed on the commission meeting agenda for months, but have received no communication regarding this request. No one is talking to Florida SPECS. However, the county and city are talking to each other. And neither seems to want Florida SPECS or certain Sanford citizens to make any progress.
Florida SPECS was looking to put up a beautiful building that would enhance downtown Sanford and attract people of all ages, races and classes. Even though the housing would be for senior citizens on fixed incomes, it would be of high quality and well kept. Seniors have already been inquiring about the facility. These people are not riffraff to be kept out. They are hard-working members of society who have already given to the community. They would just like a nice place to call home in their golden years.
They would love to visit the farmers market on Saturdays. I’m sure their visiting children and grandchildren would too. However, if some in the City of Sanford and Seminole County have their way, the dream for our elders will die.
Come out to the Sanford City Commission meetings to show that all are welcome and wanted in Seminole County and Sanford, and that discrimination will not be tolerated. If you are in support of progress, contact your city and county commissioners.