Charlotte County residents pushed out by affordable housing shortage
Port Charlotte used to be one of the more affordable gulf-facing communities in Southwest Florida, but these days the area is facing a shortage of affordable housing that is pushing people out.
21-year-old Vanessa Alicea has lived in Port Charlotte for five years and rented for about two. She makes $18 an hour working at the Punta Gorda Airport, but since deciding to move out of the one-bedroom apartment she shares with her roommate, she’s had to consider living in a mobile home in order to stay local.
“I really don't want to be here anymore just because of that. I like the area. It's nice and safe, but the fact that you're not able to afford anything is what's pushing me out,” she said.
“I can't live on my own. I thought I would be able to live on my own just making $12 an hour, but making $18, it's still hard.”
According to Charlotte County Human Services Department Director Carrie Walsh, this is the reality for a lot of people.
“Affordable housing, we're already feeling the crunch of that in our community,” she said. “For a long time, Charlotte County was the more affordable option versus the larger counties that we were sandwiched between. However, you know, the secret's out, people have found us.”
Walsh attributes this shortage to an inventory issue. She says that Port Charlotte simply does not have enough rental inventory to be able to keep pace with demand.
The construction of the Sunseeker Resort by Allegiant Air that is taking place next to the Barron Collier Bridge exemplifies this issue. The resort will not serve as permanent housing, but it is expected to increase the value of property in the area. It will also serve as a draw to snowbirds that already flood Charlotte County every winter.
According to Walsh, seasonal residents are already a contributing factor to the affordable housing shortage.
“What happens is that when we are in season, when it is winter, rents double, sometimes triple in what landlords are able to get for those spaces,” Walsh said. “Oftentimes, what we find is, we have a great difficulty in folks finding affordable year-round leases, because it's much easier for landlords to make the same amount of money by only renting for half of the amount of time, less wear and tear on their home.”
88-year-old James Barrett has owned properties in Charlotte County for 30 years and he says his properties that used to bring in between $200 and $500 a month now earn him at least $1,000.
“The first piece of property that I bought have practically tripled in value,” he said.
Barrett says he thinks the increase in property value has a lot of causes, including population growth, something that Walsh also cited as a major contributing factor. As of 2021, Charlotte County has a population of just over 197,000 people, a number that falls just under the threshold to qualify as an entitlement community.
“Larger communities that meet that population threshold automatically get funding,” Welsh said. “Charlotte County is not an entitlement community, but we're kind of butting up against that, and so, what happens is that we have the needs of a larger community. We have the capacity of a larger community to distribute funds. We have those systems in place, but because we're not that large, we just don't get that funding.”
Walsh said this lack of funding has meant that her department has to rely on faith-based partners, community organizations, nonprofits, and other government organizations to assist low-income residents.
“We try and work as closely as we can with them to help folks in the best way we can,” she said. “Unfortunately, it's just not enough.”
She recommends that individuals who are looking for rental assistance check out the county website, where there is an online application for assistance. She also welcomes people to visit in-person or call.
There are resources available for low-income residents, but for residents like Vanessa Alicea, whose income does not qualify her for aid, the answer may be moving to a more affordable part of the country.
Walsh said there is a lot of good, creative work going on to try and mitigate this housing issue, and that there's a lot of dedicated and passionate people working hard to be able to right this, but change won’t be coming anytime soon.
“Unfortunately, it just takes a lot of time,” Walsh said. “And that's not the answer that anyone wants to hear when people are feeling that crisis now.”