FORT MYERS, Fla. — As more people continue wanting to live in southwest Florida, new numbers from the Housing Authority of Fort Myers are showing how many people are looking for a place to call home.
At the forefront of the crisis is Dr. Catherine Lamberg, the housing authority's new Chief Operations Officer.
"The City of Fort Myers is pretty much facing the same challenges everyone is facing," she said. "Finding quality, affordable housing within the community has been difficult."
She comes in with nearly four decades of experience and says housing should not be an option.
However, Lamberg says she has not seen a need like this before, telling Fox 4 it heightened after the pandemic. The COO also said Hurricane Ian added to the crisis, too.
"I know it’s a struggle out there for everyone," she said.
Lamberg says inventory, meaning housing units available, continues to be an issue because right now the need exceeds what is on the market and what they manage.
"We have just under 1,000 units of public housing," she said.
The agency serves about 5,000 to 7,000 people. To give a little bit of a better perspective on how many people need housing in Fort Myers, Lamberg says there is a waitlist for all of their programs.
The waitlist combined is around 3,000 to 5,000 people.
"We’re working through those numbers very quickly," Lamberg said.
The largest program is the lower and public housing program, followed by the tax credit program. The housing authority also offers housing vouchers, which currently pay about 120% of the Area Median Income.
The issue cannot be fixed without two major components: first, developers are needed to build the housing.
"The development and constructing housing takes time, but people need housing today," Lamberg said.
Her staff works with developers to encourage them to accept housing vouchers or make some units affordable housing.
The second component comes back down to cash.
"Funding is always an issue. There’s never enough," Lamberg said.
Most of the agency's money comes from the federal government, and they're always looking for ways to get it for people in Fort Myers.
As Lamberg takes on a new role, she has laid out three priorities:
- Continue to provide quality, affordable housing
- Housing authority's website.Work with current residents to meet needs
- Maintain the organization and staff
"We’re getting to see a re-emergence of participation in affordable housing programs," she said.
With more people in need, Lamberg hopes to see more construction, because that's the first step to get more families a roof over their heads.
"I’m optimistic and hoping that I kind of start to see the balance back," she said.
If you are in need of housing, you can find more on the housing authority's website.