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'Where am I going to go?': Seniors struggle to afford rising rent in Fort Myers

One woman says either she doesn't eat if she pays the new rent, which is going up by more than $600, or she's homeless.
Posted at 5:43 PM, May 17, 2024

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Our housing issues in southwest Florida are wide-spread between trying to afford a home or having the money to stay in the house you're currently in. It's a problem magnified for seniors on a fixed income.

A woman in downtown Fort Myers reached out to Fox 4 senior and housing reporter Kaitlin Knapp about her dilemma. The renter says her rent is going up and at this point it's either she doesn't eat or she ends up homeless.

Roz Finkenhoffer is 85-years young. She retired from Lee County Schools in 2010 and is living on her own.

Roz Finkenhoffer rising rent help
Roz Finkenhoffer said someone told her to call FOX 4's Senior Reporter Kaitlin Knapp when the former Lee County School District employee needed help with rising rent on a fixed income.

The issues started when she got a text message from her landlord.

"She said the market value is $1,500-$1,675 for these units," Finkenhoffer said.

So, the landlord said she is raising the rent by more than $600.

"We can't afford this, we are on fixed income," Finkenhoffer said. "We don't get that kind of increase."

At that price, Finkenhoffer would have to use her entire social security check for rent.

"So what happens? How do I eat? How do I pay the utilities?," she explained.

She is asking herself this agonizing question: at 85-years-old, where am I going to go?

"I'm not alone," she said.

Numbers prove she's right.

"We're seeing that a large number of people are older adults that are experiencing or about to be homeless themselves," said Maricela Morado, president and CEO of Area Agency on Aging of Southwest Florida.

Southwest Florida Elder Helpline calls for a single day
As of noon Thursday, 86 people had already called the SWFL Elder Helpline on that day alone.

She says their elder helpline is overwhelmed with calls from seniors. About 50% of the 30,000 calls so far this year, in Lee County alone, ask about housing. Morado says this topic is in their top five list of inquiries every year.

"It's very hard because you want to do so much and there's limited resources available," Morado explained.

Senior reporter Kaitlin Knapp used her community connections and reached out to the Fort Myers Community Development Director. Steve Belden is in charge of the city's affordable housing trust fund.

He says she's on a waiting list, and they will call Finkenhoffer to connect her with more resources.

Morado believes a crisis like this is a systemic issue.

"I believe so yes, and we need to see as a community what we can do to try to eradicate as much of it as possible," she explained.

Roz Finkenhoffer rising rent help Fort Myers
Roz Finkenhoffer, 85, holds her little dog proudly. She's struggling with rising rent on a fixed rent.

It's a community Finkenhoffer has been a part of for years.

"I thought it was going to be my forever home," she said.

Even with the unknown, she still hopes it will still be just that.

"My faith is telling me that He is still in the miracle business and He is going to send an angel or a worker or someone like you, to help me stay in this property," Finkenhoffer said.

Here are some housing resources for people struggling to afford rent, utilities or other housing-related issues.