Throughout Southwest Florida, access to affordable housing is extremely limited. In Lee County specifically, 48% of renters and 26% of homeowners spend more than 30% of their income on housing, meaning families have less money for nutritious food, necessary health care services, and other quality of life related expenses. Our community has a critical need for affordable homeownership – a need that Habitat for Humanity is uniquely positioned to address.
At Habitat of Lee and Hendry Counties, the work we do helps to create opportunities for affordable homeownership, while at the same time, fostering community and building a foundation of hope for local families all over Southwest Florida. However, access to affordable housing is a problem for people of all ages, and back in 2006, our leadership team recognized a need for affordable rentals for senior citizens. In response to that need, we deviated from our core mission to build 60 one-bedroom affordable rental units adjacent to our North Fort Myers office on Swanson Loop.
For the last 14 years, Habitat has proudly maintained those units and provided local senior citizens with an affordable place to live. However, as we’ve amplified our ambition to create more opportunities for affordable homeownership and foster community on a larger scale, our leadership team has recognized another need – a need to realign with the heart of our mission.
In regards to our decision to sell the senior rental facility, Habitat CEO, Becky Lucas, acknowledged that “there are other organizations whose core focus is rentals,” and in our endeavor to sell, “consideration was given to interested parties who agreed to maintain below market value rent.”
One such organization is Southwest Florida Affordable Housing Choice Foundation, a non-profit affiliate of the Housing Authority of the City of Fort Myers. “The focus of our foundation is to enhance and increase the number of affordable housing options throughout the Lee County communities,” explains Housing Authority Executive Director, Marcia Davis. “This purchase is the latest example of how we seek new and innovative ways to provide affordable housing to families in need.”
Now that they’ve acquired the former Habitat rental facility, the Foundation intends to continue serving senior citizens in our area, offering each resident a subsidized rent that does not exceed 30% of their monthly income, plus, access to a senior services coordinator who can connect residents with quality of life improving, senior care, service providers.
Proceeds from the sale are being invested in the development of seven Habitat Neighborhoods, including Heritage Heights. Our neighborhood model makes homeownership attainable for more families. Moreover, it offers our families a sense of community and promotes personal and economic stability by connecting residents with opportunities to thrive. Becky’s vision for Heritage Heights is that it will serve future homeowners “who aren’t just looking for a place to live, but a neighborhood to establish roots and call home.”
We’re grateful for the opportunity to hand the Swanson Loop facility over to an organization that is appropriately equipped to give those residents the care they deserve. We’re even more grateful that this transition is allowing us to shift our focus back to what we do best – making affordable homeownership more attainable and building people up through access to community; this is the heart of the Habitat mission.