Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many families in Southwest Florida struggled with housing instability. As rent and homeownership costs skyrocket, wages largely remain stagnant for low and moderate-income households.
Often, it seems, no matter how hard a family works or how much they sacrifice—unaffordable housing decimates any opportunity to build personal and economic stability. This was undoubtedly true for Amber, a hardworking, single-mother living in Cape Coral.
“I was paying $1,700 per month to rent a house for me and my three children. And even though I had a good job—we were always one missed paycheck away from being in a really bad situation.”
Like Amber, there are 52,000 households in Lee County and more than one million across the state enduring the harsh realities of housing instability. Anxiety, stress, and a never-ending fear that one small emergency could mean financial ruin and (or) homelessness. “It’s was tough…you could never relax,” said Amber.
She understood that owning an affordable home was vital to building the economic stability and resiliency that her family desperately needed. In 2019, Amber applied and was approved for the affordable homeownership program offered by Habitat for Humanity of Lee & Hendry Counties.
The program includes making a modest payment towards closing costs, helping build the home by contributing “sweat equity,” attending educational courses on home maintenance and financial literacy, and covering an affordable monthly mortgage capped at 30 percent of household income.
“Habitat changed everything. Now, I’m building equity and paying $876 a month for my mortgage—something I can afford.”
By purchasing a three-bedroom, two-bathroom Habitat home, Amber cut her housing costs in half. With the savings, she began providing her children with new opportunities and putting money aside in case an emergency ever occurred.
And thank God she did.
“When I was diagnosed with cancer, I had to take one month off of work for treatment, and the only reason I could afford to do that was because of my affordable mortgage with Habitat. Owning an affordable home makes dealing with these types of emergencies possible.”
With grit and determination, Amber beat cancer and is now pursuing a degree in Radiologic Technology at Florida Southwestern State College—a degree that will empower her to serve others facing challenges that mirror her own.
Through it all, Amber is quick to center affordable homeownership as the key reason for her resiliency.
“Being able to take time off for treatment, going to college, and now with the coronavirus…I work from home, but having the kids home all day means our grocery bill is about $200 a month higher—we couldn’t have afforded that before Habitat.”
Between an already constrained affordable housing market and the devastating economic impacts associated with COVID-19, more families than ever are facing housing instability. With unemployment numbers matching the Great Depression and all signs pointing towards a slow and modest recovery—public policy should be used to stimulate the development of affordable homes and empower families to build economic resiliency, just as Amber has done.
“If families had affordable homes, it would solve so many other problems.”
The good news, ensuring every family has access to quality, affordable housing isn’t overly complicated—It merely requires elevating the issue and collectively realigning our priorities.