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Collier business leaders sound alarm on county's housing problems

Experts say the county needs at least 10,000 more affordable workforce housing units.
Affordable Housing
Posted at 1:07 PM, Jan 13, 2023

COLLIER COUNTY, Fla. — Business leaders in Collier County say the lack of affordable workforce housing has reached crisis levels and is impacting nearly every industry.

“I think we’re in crisis mode. And I think it’s getting worse,” said Joe Trachtenberg, Chairman of the Collier County Affordable Housing Advisory Committee.

To find out the impact of the county’s crisis, Fox 4 Investigates spoke with local employers.

“We’ve increased pay rates and sign-on bonuses and still we’re finding it hard to attract employees,” said Paul Hiltz, CEO of NCH Healthcare System, which employs about 4,800 people in Collier County.

Hiltz told Fox 4 Investigates the healthcare company has increased its benefits package but still has difficulty attracting candidates.

“Affordable housing here is different than it is in other parts of the country,” Hiltz said. “We’re talking about helping people who are earning six-figure salaries find affordable homes.”

Fine dining restauranteur Tony Ridgway says many of his employees work multiple jobs in order to afford to live near the county.

“When you have a lesser ability to hire good people because they can’t find a place to live, or you actually lose good people because they choose to live elsewhere because they cannot afford what we have here. That gets to be our biggest problem,” said Ridgway, who employs 180 people in Collier County.

Both men spoke at a workforce housing forum hosted this week by Greater Naples Leadership.

The Sheriff’s office, the school district, and other top employers all shared similar stories of struggling to find employees because housing is too expensive.

“40% of our workforce lives outside of Collier County,” said Hiltz. “As the drives get longer and longer and the traffic gets busier, it’s a challenge to hang onto those workers.”

Collier County has the highest per capita income in the state, by far, according to the U.S. Federal Reserve, nearly $118,000 a year.

But those numbers can be skewed by some of the highest earners.

According to the state Department of Economic Opportunity, nearly 2/3rds of the jobs in Collier County pay less than $33,250 a year.

The average rent for an apartment in Naples is $2,300 a month, according to RentCafe, a nationwide apartment listing service.

“We’re approaching a dangerous situation if we don’t have enough police on the street, we don’t have enough firemen,” Trachtenberg said.

Trachtenberg says Collier County needs at least 10 to 15 thousand more housing units.

But right now, Trachtenberg says there’s little incentive for developers to build workforce housing.

“There are other places in Florida that are building workforce housing,” Trachtenberg said.

“It’s just a question of making it economically feasible for the developers to come in here and do their job.”