The Collier County Affordable Housing Advisory Committee is tasked with finding a new chair after Collier County Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted to remove Joseph Trachtenberg. Commissioners deemed Trachtenberg, who served in the position for 13 months, incompatible with the needs of the committee and county.
Trachtenberg became the public face of an effort to provide more workforce housing to Collier, consistently writing op-eds and using public forums to bring attention to the widespread issue.
However, Chris Hall and his fellow commissioners said more needed to be done than just voicing the issue to the public. Hall said Trachtenberg didn’t present enough solutions.
“We’re not denying the problem, we know what the problem is. We want somebody on the AHAC, and especially as the chair of the AHAC, to be meeting with developers, meeting with landowners, meeting with people who have potential to make deals. And bring those to us so that we, as the government, can take some of our rules and get out of the way and allow that to happen so that we can create some housing for our essential workers,” Hall said.
Voting to dismiss Trachtenberg came a day after an email was sent by the former chair to commissioners questioning why four zoning changes relating to workforce housing continued to be tabled on commissioner meeting agendas. These zoning changes, which were postponed three times, were discussed by AHAC since last summer and include allowing residential developments in certain commercial zoning. Trachtenberg said his email was taken too personally.
“I think [Hall] took my comment as a poke in the eye, reacted very badly to it and retaliated by moving for my removal that afternoon at the commissioners meeting,” Trachtenberg said. “I was equally disappointed when all of [the commissioners] deferred to him and said, ‘You’re our liaison, if this is what you want, we’ll support it,’ and I was unanimously dismissed.”
In his tenure, Trachtenberg successfully pushed for a county ordinance for landlords to give tenants at least 60 days’ notice of rent increases. The ordinance was short lived after being repealed by Hall not even two months after it was passed.
“That ordinance did absolutely nothing to solve the workforce issue. It was a feel-good ordinance,” Hall said. “You’ll hear people say it was the decent thing to do, and it’s a great thing to do. But in my first meeting, I made the motion to overturn that because that is not a position for the government to be in. That is strictly between landlords and tenants. To be mandated by ordinance I thought was government overreach and so did four others.”
Running a large part of his 2022 campaign on workforce housing, Hall said he is focused on ensuring AHAC leads in a positive, solution-based direction. During Hall and Trachtenberg’s few months together on AHAC, surtax and bylaws subcommittees were created. The surtax subcommittee began to bring recommendations forward on the best ways to spend the county’s $20 million surtax funds set aside for affordable housing.
Trachtenberg said he’ll believe county leaders actually care about the issue when concrete decisions are made.
“I have not seen any indication to date that [the commissioners] truly care about the plight of the people who are suffering,” he said. “Our essential workers are spending hours in their cars commuting and so they can find a job closer to where they live. It’s interesting that the county itself, the school district, the deputies, the clerks, they’re the ones that are suffering as much or more than any other employer in terms of not being able to hire paid staff. You would think that [the commissioners] would be more understanding of the problem.”
Other leaders in the fight for more affordable housing such as Elizabeth Radi, leader of the Collier County Tenants Union, were shocked with the commissioners’ decision to remove someone who worked to educate the community on how it is affected by the issue.
“I think [Trachtenberg] was a big component in getting people to understand the need for [workforce housing], to push out the [not in my backyard-ism] that was going on in the lack of understanding of the need of affordable housing. And that’s where he brought so many people together,” Radi said. “When you start letting people go because you don’t like what you’re seeing then that’s a concern for me.”
Radi hopes Trachtenberg won’t hide his passion for more workforce housing after his removal.
“I’m hoping that [Trachtenberg] will continue to push forward. I look forward to working with him continuously throughout the future and so do a lot of other organizations that understand where his heart is and understand that he did nothing wrong,” Radi said.
Trachtenberg assured his presence will continue to be felt as he pushes for solutions to the issue.
“I’ve never been fired from anything in my life and if I said I wasn’t disappointed over this, it would be untrue,” he said. “But I’m not going to stop advocating for workforce housing. If anything, I’m more committed today than I was before.”
Hall said he consistently meets with developers who provide viable options for solving the problem and the community will continue to notice his commitment to bringing workforce housing to the county.
“Watch the units starting to be built. People can doubt me, they can doubt my commitment. And that’s fine. I’m not subject to their opinion of me. I know me. I know what the issue is and I know how to solve it,” Hall said. “But it’s going to take some time, but my want to is at 1,000%.”