Habitat for Humanity brings more affordable housing to Bonita Springs
In Lee County, almost 80,000 households spend over 30% of their income on housing, according to UF Shumberg Center’s 2019 Recent Market Study. With rent increasing 45% in Lee County since 2019 and the Cape Coral-Fort Myers area being more expensive than almost 80% of the state of Florida, many locals are struggling to make ends meet while keeping a roof over their heads.
Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry counties is known for working to provide affordable housing for cost-burdened families of Southwest Florida. One of the current focuses for the local organization is Partnership Place.
Situated in the Rosemary Park area of Bonita Springs, the new Partnership Place community plans to house 14 families by 2024. Construction began just last month.
“We call it Partnership Place because we have so many incredible and generous donors in Bonita Springs,” said Rachel West, director of donor relations for Habitat of Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties. “It’s essentially bringing together our gated communities into one place to build homes for families.
Partnership Place is funded by multiple local Bonita Springs communities: Bonita Bay, Pelican Landing and The Colony, Shadow Wood Charitable Foundation and Turning Point Church.
Volunteers for the organization are from the respective donor communities. Pat Douglas, the Shadow Wood volunteer leader, thinks being a part of Habitat is a great way to help while having fun.
“For me, it’s just a passion, I’ve always been a little handy and I enjoy coming out here and helping people that are somewhat less fortunate, and we are having a lot of fun doing it,” Douglas said. “We build a lot of fun friendships and camaraderie, and you learn a lot of great skills."
Habitat for Humanity’s completed work can be see in east Bonita Springs in scattered lots throughout Rosemary Park. The Red Hibiscus neighborhood with over 20 homes was also constructed by Habitat.
“We’ve been ingrained down in Rosemary Park for decades,” West said. “We have a ton of supporters that are very passionate about building in Bonita Springs and building for their neighbors down there as well.”
To be a recipient of a Habitat for Humanity home, it takes more than showing a need for an affordable house. The future owners still need to pay a mortgage, complete 300 hours of sweat equity involving manual labor in the home, and take over 20 hours of homeownership courses.
Glenda Isaacs and her husband travel the country together and work to complete Habitat for Humanity projects.
“Almost every place we’ve worked, we’ve met the families and it’s really cool,” Isaacs said. “Everybody has been so appreciative and it makes you want to come out and do this more.”
Bonita Springs Councilman Jesse Purdon, one of the newer members of the Board of Directors for the Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties, grew up in Rosemary Park, voted to approve the Partnership Place project, and was part of last months’ wall raising.
“It’s cool to be involved in so many of the processes. It’s in my district in an area that has been overlooked for a long time,” Purdon said. “This is really going to be a good opportunity for some fantastic people to get a piece of the American Dream.”
The Habitat for Humanity team realizes the importance of having housing options for those in the economically diverse area that surrounds Partnership Place, as there are many workers living there that serve the local community each day.
“We’ve seen that a lot of the folks that live down in Rosemary Park are the folks that work in hospitality and work in our communities. So the need for affordable housing is immense,” West said. “It’s extremely expensive to live in Bonita and the people that work down there just would have no where to live.”
Purdon agrees that being a voice for the hard-working community is crucial.
“I would rather have more police and firefighters and teachers in our community, I don’t think that makes me weaker, that’s what makes me stronger,” Purdon said. “Those are the people that make up America, so without them none of us will have nearly the types of lives that we have.”
Habitat for Humanity relies heavily on fundraisers from locals who are willing to donate money to these projects. Dorota Harris, chair of the fundraising campaign at Bonita Bay, works to ensure that her community knows Habitat’s mission and purpose.
“Our goal is to make everybody aware of the need, who gets the house and how,” Harris said. “The money flows from that, making sure everybody knows how the process works, how (the recipients) have to manage a mortgage and put the sweat labor.”
Bonita Bay is halfway through this year’s fundraising campaign for Habitat for Humanity, and they are close to reaching half a million dollars. Last fiscal year, the community raised nearly $750,000.
“Some people are able to be more generous than others, but every dollar counts,” Harris said. “The key thing is that it’s local and people can go look at it and talk with the community.”
Partnership Place will have six completed homes by the end of this summer, six homes finished by next summer, and two homes to be completed by summer of 2024.
“Affordable housing is one of those issues that has riddled Southwest Florida particularly for a very long time because we are in one of the best communities in the country and along with that there are prices associated with it,” Purdon said. “We need to continue to make sure that the people currently living here are getting all the things they deserve.”