FORT MYERS, FL — U.S. HUD Secretary Ben Carson in Fort Myers today, to check in on public housing.
"Let's look at the areas that have been economically neglected forever," said Carson.
His stop included a tour of several public developments in the city.
"We were able to see three different site, the first one was the Southward Village. That's a 50-year old housing community. It's actually been kept in good shape to be 50 years old, but obviously is quite worn," he said.
The Fort Myers Housing Authority says a program launched by HUD in 2017 could help revitalize that area. It identifies parts of the community that are struggling financially as "opportunity zones."
To help breathe life into those areas, the program offers tax breaks and tax forgiveness to those who choose to invest in projects in those zones.
Right now, Lee county has 15 zones, three of which are in Fort Myers, but mayor Randy Henderson says he's looking to expand.
"Sometimes we find ourselves in a situation where we have a development but it's technically not right in the opportunity zone," he said.
While Henderson says the program would help meet the need for affordable housing and more business in the area, he also adds that so far its hit a few snags.
"It has been a challenge with COVID-19 and other interventions or interruptions I should say, such as Irma," he said.
Despite this he's hopeful the program will find it's footing and he says partnering with other southwest Florida counties may be key.
"I am confident that the opportunity zones are going to be very productive not only for Fort Myers but we need to look at this more broadly around the region," said Henderson.