Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Vengroff's Offense at Inspections Is Justified

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Vengroff's Offense at Inspections Is Justified

Article excerpt

COMMENTARY

Walking out on the Sarasota City Commission in a huff Monday night was a rash act in a moment of frustration, and I wish he had handled it another way.

But I'm pretty sure I get why Harvey Vengroff was so irked, and I hope some city commissioners do, too -- or soon will.

You might know I started out as a Vengroff skeptic. The guy's background seemed to call for that. He had made much of his fortune as a bill collector and was suddenly talking like a do-gooder.

That apparent clash was hard to ignore when I first heard, back at the time of the real estate bust, that Vengroff was coming up with plans to keep people from becoming homeless during the massive wave of bank foreclosures.

I doubted there was much charitable thinking involved. What I cautiously liked, though, was that while he seemed like a nice guy when we talked, he also admitted -- advertised, really -- that he was not into charity. He had no wish to create an organization that made helping people a one-way transaction with givers and takers.

Most people usually don't need charity, just a reasonable business setup, he said. Average working people were in trouble then because of an economic crisis they did not create, so he was working on a business plan to make some money while helping them refinance.

We still disagree on some details of his attempt to tackle a really tough problem, but I came to believe Vengroff was sincere in his approach. I see his proposal for a nearly 400-unit affordable apartment complex in much the same light.

Working people with only modest paychecks need places to live but can't find or afford them in Sarasota, because the market is so squeezed by the shortage of small houses and apartments. So there is money to be made providing low-cost housing, he says, and the solution need not involve charity and dependence. What is needed is more small but solidly livable homes or apartments.

He is willing and ready to invest in creating them. As an experienced landlord, he is sure he can make affordable housing work as a well-run business, with no need for tax-dollar draining government bureaucracy. …

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