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More workforce housing could be built on vacant land sitting for three decades in Fort Myers

Workforce housing
Posted at 6:11 PM, Jun 02, 2023

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Another workforce housing project could be coming to Fort Myers. If approved, it would go on a vacant lot that hasn't seen development in more than three decades.

This could potentially help people like Christina Staszak, who has been struggling to find an affordable place to rent.

"It’s been very, very stressful as you you can probably imagine," she said. "I feel like all the odds are stacked against me.”

She currently lives with her parents and is looking to spend around $1,300 on a home. Staszak would do it on her own, so finding an affordable place is tough.

"I’m looking and looking every single day," she said.

With her income, she could qualify for the new housing complex, where there will be 300 units that would go near Commercial Drive and Cleveland Avenue.

"Workforce housing is in the 120% area median income range, so it’s a little bit higher," said Steven Belden, the city's community development director. "We’re starting to see more interest there and I think when the road improvements get completed on 41, that will help a lot."

It's higher than affordable housing, but this is geared more towards people who are above the very low to low affordability threshold.

The area hasn't seen any work since 1990. That's when City Council approved the lot for a two-story car warehouse. It didn't happen, leaving the lot full of weeds and brush.
"Most of the vacant land in the city is being developed," Belden said. "So we’re kind of running out of that vacant land."

The city has close to 2,000 acres of vacant land, which is about 2,600 parcels. Not all of it can be developed because of site constraints, like wetlands.

The real challenge, Belden says, is bringing in developers.

"When you’re doing a project and you’re only charging rents at a certain level, it’s hard to make the numbers work," he explained.

In this case, the developer came to the city first.

"It’s going to help fill that need to provide vital housing for people that work here in the city," Belden said.

It could help people like Staszak, who continues to look for a new rental but is doing it alone.

“I feel like here you have to make at least 70 or $80,000 a year to be able to afford somewhat of a decent place on your own," she said.

Staszak doesn't want to move but has thought about going to Orlando as she may be priced out of paradise.

"I’m just hoping something is done about it soon because quite frankly I love this area and there’s no other place I would rather be," she said.

City Council still has a long way to go for this project. It needs to have two public hearings, one being held on June 19th at 5:15 p.m. After the hearings, council members will vote to rezone the area from an auto mall to an apartment complex.