New head of Collier's Affordable Housing Advisory group says time for awareness is past in county; commitment, resolve needed
The new chairman of the Collier County Affordable Housing Advisory Committee is no stranger to the group's focal issue having dealt with it locally for the past 20 years and nationally for his entire career.
Stephen Hruby is afounding principal of Architects Unlimited, a 34-year-old architectural, urban design and town-planning firm. He has more than 40 years experience in architectural design, community revitalization and development consulting.
In January, the AHAC unanimously re-elected Joseph Trachtenberg as its chairman. Barely two months later, the commissioners unanimously removed him Feb. 28 with Hruby's appointment on March 22.
Trachtenberg later termed his removal as a "firing" and said it was a case of him speaking out about the state of affordable housing in the county and a lack of progress over the past year.
The county's board of commissioners will be meeting Tuesday morning and are expected to vote on the land development code regulations that Trachtenberg said had been delayed time and time again by the board.
Commissioners have said the delays were not deliberate but rather were due to several reasons including elections and Hurricane Ian.
Hruby said the AHAC members serve at the pleasure of the County Commissioners.
"They have the right to dismiss any of us at their discretion," he said. "If there is not a level of confidence in our leadership then there can be no real dialog between us and the Commissioners. We are here to help them sort out the complexities of the housing crisis. If there is a lack of confidence in us as an advisory body then we cease to be effective."
Hruby described Trachtenberg as a "passionate, dedicated advocate" of affordable housing.
"I believe his public outreach over the one year and two months that he chaired AHAC has helped expose our committee to the public. I’m not sure that you, as a journalist, would be talking to me today if Joe had not made AHAC a known entity. Personally, I believe Joe just may be more effective as a free agent unbound by some of the limitations placed on AHAC members as a quasi-public entity. I am sure he will continue to be the advocate voice of affordable housing in Collier County."
And despite Trachtenberg's removal, Hruby said that what has transpired over the past two years is giving him hope that the affordable housing problem can be addressed here.
"It is obvious to me that the public, business and government leaders are well aware of the problem," Hruby said in an email to WGCU. "That awareness is not only the result of the press coverage. I find it a major topic of conversation at almost every event I have attended in the past two years. Why? Because we are feeling the impact of the lack of service workers on our local businesses, our day-to-day life style, and our health and safety."
Hruby said that awareness is no longer an issue in the community and most everyone should be aware that there is a problem.
"It is a matter of rolling up our sleeves and making some hard decisions and commitments to implement solutions," he said.
As for AHAC, Hruby said the committee's mandate is to advise the county’s leaders with best practices – with regard to policies and regulations -- that will promote and protect housing affordability for those who are being priced out of the market.
"I am very encouraged by the direction and the actions AHAC has taken in the past two years," he said. "We have had great exposure and the community is taking notice of what we do. But, the community must also be aware that we are only an advisory board and have no judicial powers to enact or effectuate change."
Hruby said those kinds of actions are the burden that falls on the Collier County Board of Commissioners.
"But AHAC, by Florida State mandate, is a diverse group of individuals with knowledge and skill sets appropriate to address the issue and provide guidance to the Commissioners," he said. "In the upcoming year, I intend to guide the AHAC to concentrate on necessary modifications to our county’s policies, procedures and regulations."
Hruby said the goal is to focus government and its resources to working with the private sector, community and businesses leaders and the philanthropic community to form strong public private partnerships capable of take actioning.
"Government’s role is not to be the provider, owner or operator of housing, but the catalyst, that provides the necessary environment, incentives, streamlined policies and regulations, leveraged resources that make that public- private partnership succeed," he said.
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