FORT MYERS, Fla. — The need for affordable housing has been a constant issue in southwest Florida. Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson wants to convert city-owned vacant lots into affordable homes for essential workers.
They will be single-family homes and only about six will be constructed every year. The essential workers, such as nurses, teachers and first responders will be able to own them.
"These are all jobs we need," Anderson said. "We want people to be able to buy a home. The goal is for housing costs not to exceed 30% of your income."
The City of Fort Myers will foot the bill at first, potentially around $250,000. Future homeowners would then pay them back when they buy the home. Houses will be built on lots the city acquired through a purchase, code enforcement, or donation.
Finding housing for essential workers isn't a new issue. In fact, Lee Health discussed this at a press conference on January 11.
"Part of our challenge when we were bringing in the seasonal staffing was finding a place for them to live," said Armando Llechu with Lee Health.
One of the lots is near Marsh and Arlington in central Fort Myers. A local realty expert likes the idea but says it's not enough to make a dent in our crisis.
"It's great, but it's very low-scale," said Michael McVety, a property manager with Red Fortress. "If they wanted to provide more affordable housing for people, obviously you would try to do more a multi-family, like a duplex situation to help more people."
When asked about multi-family units, Mayor Anderson said they're looking at homeownership, not into the rental business.
"What we’re doing is finding a pathway to make a house a little bit more affordable," he explained.
This is a slight change from what Anderson has said in the past. During a June 2022 with Fox 4, the mayor said "it’s not our responsibility to provide housing for people. The responsibility really falls on the individual."
When asked about this and if he's changed his mindset based on the vacant lot idea, he said "not really."
"Because the only investment that the city’s making, for the most part, is that piece of land that is vacant and sitting there useless," Anderson explained.
Land, which McVety said is one of the most expensive parts when it comes to building a home.
"If the land is expensive like it is, you have a tendency to not build affordable homes," he explained. "Part of it has to do with land, part of it has to do with all the extra regulations that they have that go into the cost of building the homes."
While the idea, Anderson says, is to build about six homes a year, he hopes to build 50 homes over the next few years. Currently, they have about 10-12 lots with more potentially closing.
Anderson believes he has a home-building company with some plans to help.
"It does add to the inventory, there's no doubt about it," Anderson said.
The mayor does not believe it will need to go to City Council as they will get the money back when the homeowner buys the house. However, he plans to follow the city attorney's legal advice, if it needs to go through the council.
If everything falls into place, Anderson hopes to start construction in 60 days.