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Fort Myers’ Affordable Housing Task Force Works Toward A Livable Future for Struggling Citizens

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Member of the Affordable Housing Task Force Justin Thibaut talks about policy, one of the three main focuses, at a city council meeting on September 7. The AHTF was put together by Mayor Anderson after he recognized the issue.

Mayor Kevin Anderson’s Affordable Housing Task Force gave a presentation to the city council on identifying pathways to bridge the growing gap in affordability of housing in the City of Fort Myers. The AHTF consists of several professionals with backgrounds in real estate and land development, three of whom were at the presentation on September 7.

Justin Thibaut, Tyler Sharpe, and Jason Teeters began this journey eight months ago. They were asked to review current policies and procedures that pertain to affordable housing both in rentals and ownership.

“We have come up with new things we suggest the city implement,” Thibaut said. “To help bring new, affordable communities into the city of Fort Myers.” Their goals surround not only immediate change in the market, but ones that can last long into the future. The team is observing what they see as it relates to construction of homes and the diversity of the community, according to Sharpe. Sharpe currently serves as an engineer in the Land Development Department of Johnson Engineering. His experience lies in civil engineering aspects of commercial, residential, institutional, medical, and industrial type land development projects in Southwest Florida.

“We’re looking at how this plan becomes flexible enough now and in the future,” Sharpe said. Within AHTF’s plan, there are three major focus areas: funding, policy, and awareness.

For funding, they’ve come up with ways to establish recurring income streams for the housing trust with a percentage of fees or possible surplus from property taxes. The city has initially provided the trust to start with a few million dollars as a one-time deal.

“That’s kind of a drop in the bucket for what really needs to occur here, for this to actually have an impact in the community.” Thibaut said. He is President of LSI Companies, a full-service real estate firm in southwest Florida. He specializes in commercial real estate analysis and acquisition/disposition of commercial real estate. According to Thibaut, the policy goal focuses on making sure the city is aware that alternative building methods and smaller unit sizes help keep sales and rental properties affordable.

“Developers are coming in to build neighborhoods and apartment complexes,” Sharpe said, “The problem is they’re all market rate and very expensive.”

Sharpe identified the importance of the modification of land development requirements for affordable housing so they become less restrictive to encourage land developers to take on these projects. The biggest of their three focus areas is awareness, according to Thibaut.

Jason Teeters was emphasized as the most knowledgeable on the importance of community outreach. Teeters is a program manager at SecondMuse, a company that builds resilient economies to define inspiring visions, build lasting businesses, and unite people across the globe. According to Teeters, the ever-growing wave of technology and resources towards finding housing is usually lost on people due to the overwhelming amount of information required to take in.

"As these transitions happen, there are places and spaces that get lost or individuals just don’t know where to find the resources,” Teeters said.

Arianna Janson-Dugan, a Florida Gulf Coast University Psychology student in her final year, is nervous about her living situation once she graduates. Janson-Dugan currently lives off campus in Fort Myers with two other students and pays around $700 a month for rent. With the single room housing pricing being out of her range, Janson-Dugan is contemplating moving to a different state or even back home with her parents in Port Charlotte.

“I won’t be able to continue the independence I’ve made for myself these few years,” Janson-Dugan said on moving back in with her parents. “All because the market increased.”

In August 2021, the median listing home price in Fort Myers was $324,900, trending up 25% year-over-year, according to realtor.com. According to RentCafe, the average renting rate in Fort Myers is $1,618, also a 25% increase compared to the previous year.

“The demographics are changing,” Teeters said, “one of our members has a daughter who just graduated college. It’s hard finding a job along with a one-bedroom apartment starting at $1,300 to $1,400.”

The AHTF hopes for a future where people can live in their communities without having to worry about a roof over their heads while taking care of their families. The initial step is already done, though. With the presentation of these ideas, there will be further discussion by the city council.

“As of right now, none of us are leading or responsible for the action that will be taken for affordable housing or the communication surrounding it,” Teeters said.
Sharpe recommends the people who have additional questions regarding affordable housing to direct them to the city, as the AHTF has done their its scope of work for the time being.