Fort Myers council pushes for affordable housing trust fund plan
As rental rates continue to soar, the Fort Myers City Council wants to start using an affordable housing trust fund created in January to help bridge the gap between income and affordable housing.
This week, the City Council was presented with a draft ordinance governing use of housing trust fund money. It will be discussed at the City Council meeting Monday.
At the last council meeting, Councilman Johnny Streets Jr. expressed impatience with the progress in getting an affordable housing program to the point where it could help people in need.
"People have been diligent. People have been waiting. We have actual opportunities, people want to get started building low-income housing," Streets said at the last council meeting.
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Sources that have helped the balance grow
Created in January to help people struggling to afford even the most modest of living quarters, the city contributed the first $1.5 million to the trust fund. Other sources have helped the balance grow to more than $3 million available for various programs.
Now, council members will consider options for funding, income limits and legal steps needed to get the program underway.
Options for raising money for the trust fund include earmarking part of the city building permit fee for affordable housing.
Another possibility is assessing an affordable housing fee on developers who want to build market-rate housing. The fee would allow developers to get to work quicker by making a payment to stimulate development of affordable housing elsewhere.
An ordinance would also direct spending of housing fund dollars.
Councilwoman Darla Bonk told the council last week that a review of the proposed ordinance with City Manager Marty Lawing revealed $3.3 million is available for affordable housing projects, including $1.5 million ordered by the council.
Funds will be added as construction begins on the oft-delayed Towles Gardens project, an affordable housing community being developed on Veronica Shoemaker Boulevard in Dunbar.
"There is a million bucks in there for Towles Garden, for improvements that we get repaid for after units are sold," Bonk said. "There is $710,000 for Towles Garden down payment assistance, $10,000 for 71 units."
"I would like to move forward as soon as possible, this is very important," Streets said last week.
The trust fund was created after Lee Interfaith for Empowerment or LIFE, a project of the city's faith community, came to City Hall in January to demand that the council meet Mayor Kevin Anderson's promise to get a housing trust fund ordinance in the pipeline.
The trust fund has been part of LIFE's annual Nehemiah Action, an annual project that seeks to inspire action on social issues.
In urging action on getting the housing trust fund up and running, Streets said there are builders ready to participate.
"There were several discussions about builders ready to go (saying), 'If you have a plan we want to know about it.'" Streets said. "We are all in this together, and we have nothing to hide."