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FT MYERS: Possible changes to city's rental assistance program draw concerns

Possible changes to rental assistance in Fort Myers
Posted at 7:28 PM, Dec 08, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-12 07:59:36-05

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The topic of affordable housing continues to be a hot button topic of discussion in Fort Myers.

It's no secret many people are struggling to pay their rent and now, City Council is trying to decide the best way to help those in need.

However, a key element in the proposed changes is if someone should have to work in Fort Myers to be eligible for rental assistance.

Community Director Steve Belden is the one pushing the change, and councilman Fred Burson agrees. Burson said this would encourage more people to actually work in Fort Myers and cut down on traffic.

However, some council members, like Teresa Watkins Brown, questioned if that requirement is too strict because she says there might be a person in need who can't find work in Fort Myers.

Currently, the rental assistance program has $400,000 and Belden said much of it still isn't going to use, which is why he thinks it's best to extend the area median income (AMI) requirement from 100% to 120%.

Belden told city council he sees many applications of people in need who make about $40,000 a year, and if the AMI is extended, those people could qualify for assistance.

"There is a need in that gap, it really is, they don't typically get assistance in any help, because it's usually 80 mostly. So, a lot of people are missing out," Belden said.

The city is also considering changes to the current rental assistance eligibility requirements, and it's getting push back from some in the community.

In a previous council meeting, Belden suggested changing some of the requirements that include city employees being a priority.

Community Director suggests making city employees priority

However, a local pastor said the city should focus on low income residents.

"I had a discussion with a member who has to work two jobs and I asked why," said Pastor Ricky Anderson of Followers of Christ Ministry. "They say they are just trying to make it work, just trying to make ends meet because rent has gone up."

Pastor Anderson told Fox 4's Briana Brownleehe feels renters could use the help.

"According to the ordinance you must live in the city. However, the council met and made a policy that you must also work in the city," Pastor Anderson said.

Currently on the City's website, it shows that a person doesn't have to work in Fort Myers to receive rental assistance.

Current requirements for rental assistance

However, an agenda item brought in front of city council suggests changing certain requirements for rental assistance, including making it a requirement for a person to work in the city to be eligible.

Suggested changes to rental assistance requirements

"So if a person lives in Fort Myers and don't work in Fort Myers, quite naturally they are going to stop the process," Pastor Anderson said.

In a previous council meeting, Community Director Steve Belden, who suggested the changes, broke down the number of applications.

At the time of the meeting, 736 applications were in progress. 357 were denied because of income or not living in the city and only 23 were approved.

Another concern for some in the community is the suggested change of the area media income (AMI). The council is considering changing the AMI from 100% to 120%.

The council hasn't voted on the changes, but discussions will continue Monday for a council workshop.