On a cold February morning, more than 120 Habitat supporters gathered to celebrate the ground being broken on Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties newest neighborhood, Heritage Heights. The 150-home neighborhood will materialize on 20 acres of property in the Fort Myers community of Harlem Heights and provides an excellent opportunity for Habitat to scale its operations to meet the community’s need for affordable homeownership. “While I have had the opportunity to work with Habitat for Humanity in other cities, the Heritage Heights development truly brings another dimension to the scale of outreach provided,” said Lee County Commissioner, Ray Sandelli.
Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties and the Harlem Heights community have a storied history that dates to 1982, the year in which Habitat was chartered in Lee County. That summer, a handful of local leaders were joined by Habitat founder Millard Fuller to break ground on the first Habitat home in Southwest Florida. Though the organization was in its infancy and lacked adequate funding, Millard and others recognized the significant need for safe, decent, and affordable housing.
Thirty-eight years and sixteen hundred homes later, Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties has grown substantially. However, our goal has remained the same—empower hardworking families to break the cycle of poverty through affordable homeownership. As our developments have expanded to include all parts of Lee and Hendry Counties, the connection between Harlem Heights and Habitat continues to strengthen. When land became available for purchase in the Harlem Heights community, Habitat leaders and stakeholders saw a chance to develop the largest and most innovative neighborhood in Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties’ history, right where our burgeoning organization began.
In addition to making homeownership attainable for 150 hardworking, low-income families, the Heritage Heights neighborhood has been strategically designed using Habitat’s Quality of Life in Neighborhoods framework. The internationally recognized framework has been tailored to fit our community’s unique needs, focusing on a variety of foundational and sector level outcomes that help foster an environment of opportunity and security. Through shared experiences in partnership with Habitat for Humanity, Heritage Heights homeowners will enjoy a strong sense of community rooted in social cohesion and collective action.
Heritage Heights residents will also share several neighborhood assets that promote healthy living and social interaction, including a playground, basketball court, stocked freshwater pond, barbecue grills, and picnic tables. The location of Heritage Heights offers convenient access to public transportation, quality schools, hospitals, and medical centers while increasing economic opportunities for homeowners.
With Southwest Florida being one of the fastest-growing communities in the United States, many positive outcomes and opportunities have arisen. However, rapid growth has also resulted in accelerated increases to the cost of living, most significantly in the housing sector. What Heritage Heights represents is the future of Habitat for Humanity, building neighborhoods that meet the demand for affordable homes and empower residents to take leadership roles within their communities. As Commissioner Sandelli said at the groundbreaking ceremony, “the complete, planned community is a credit to all who have had the commitment and dedication to make it happen. It truly is the best of who we are as Lee County!”
Stay tuned for updates as Heritage Heights home construction will begin in early 2020.