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The CNC produces journalism on a variety of topics in Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties for about a dozen media partners including newspapers, radio and television stations and magazines.

A Newtown complex opens its doors to social services

Complex in the background with tall trees in the foreground
Jim DeLa
/
Community News Collaborative
Janie’s Garden, an affordable-housing development in Newtown, is redefining the approach for community rebuilding and revitalization by allowing public access to the residential site’s array of in-house social services.

The Janie’s Garden apartment block offers more than just a place to live.

Janie’s Garden, an affordable-housing development in Newtown, is redefining the approach for community rebuilding and revitalization by allowing public access to the residential site’s array of in-house social services.

Located in the 2300 block of Central Avenue in Sarasota, the Janie’s Garden Development houses 573 residents and is a result of a co-development venture with the Sarasota Housing Authority (SHA) and Michael’s Development, an organization that focuses on development, management, construction and investment into communities and other organizations that produce housing solutions.

At the establishment of the partnership in 2006, Michael’s and SHA selected dilapidated and outdated housing units in the area to purchase and begin the three-phase, $14 million plan that would be completed in 2016 as Janie’s Garden. The housing on the site previous to Janie’s Garden was the basis for the documentary film, “Condemned’’ in 2005.

“We all have challenges in life, but those challenges don’t defeat us, they empower us. “They strengthen us, because by giving people the skills necessary to better their lives, they (will overcome) those challenges.”
John Carpenter, Janie's Garden social service coordinator

It is the first redevelopment project to incorporate a mixed income community, consisting of low income units dispersed with market-rate units, according to Ken Waters, Chief Operating Officer of the Sarasota Housing Authority, and offers services not otherwise offered at other housing developments in the county.

Since the starting in his position as Social Service Coordinator at Janie’s Garden six months ago, John Carpenter has not only met the first set of goals he was provided within the three month mark, but has worked to expand the impact of the programming by increasing the types of services offered.

The programs include after-school programs for reading and STEM activities, financial literacy classes, specialty assistance services each month for holidays from Harvest Outreach Church, gift assistance for kids, and Ignite Fatherhood events through Jewish Family and Children's Services, and food giveaways, such as a recent turkey giveaway for Thanksgiving.

“It helps us a lot,” said Erica Gordon, a resident of Janie’s Garden who picked up a turkey for Thanksgiving, and was excited to learn more about the after-school programs for her grandchildren who live on-site.

Man sitting on a chair in an apartment complex
Jim DeLa
/
Community News Collaborative
A resident relaxes at Janie's Garden.

Carpenter also organizes one-time events each month, which he includes in his monthly newsletter that goes out to all residents.

One of the key features of successfully assisting the community of Janie’s Garden in his role is being present as much as positive, says Carpenter.

“If there’s anything the residents of Janie’s Garden can say about me in my six months I’ve been on the job, it’s that I’m consistent,” said Carpenter, “I’m on the property four or five days a week, delivering flyers for the events or the newsletters, just being a face in the community to let them know I’m there for them.”

In addition to the social services, Carpenter facilitates connection for residents and Season of Sharing, which provides rental assistance, utility assistance and car repairs, on a one time basis, to residents. For those individuals who require assistance more than once, he works to find alternative assistance options.

“We all have challenges in life, but those challenges don’t defeat us, they empower us,” said Carpenter.
“They strengthen us, because by giving people the skills necessary to better their lives, they (will overcome) those challenges.”

The waiting list for Janie’s Garden can average two or more years to get a low-income unit, which allows subsidized rental payments from government agencies.

The Sarasota Housing Authority is developing Cypress Square Phase I, located on 21st street and Orange Avenue, to provide an additional 84 units of affordable housing. The development is slated to be ready for occupancy in early 2024.

Catherine Hicks is a reporter for the Community News Collaborative. She can be reached at chicks@cncfl.org.

wide shot of an apartment complex exterior
Jim DeLa
/
Community News Collaborative
Janie’s Garden, an affordable-housing development in Newtown, is redefining the approach for community rebuilding and revitalization by allowing public access to the residential site’s array of in-house social services.