OPINION

Guest opinion: Looking for an affordable housing solution? Here's one

Rev. Lisa B. Lefkow
Special to the Naples Daily News
Collier County's affiliate of Habitat for Humanity is the largest producing in the US.   Since 2011, more than 1,000 homes have been built and in our 44-year history of building in Collier, nearly 2,400 families have helped to build and buy their Habitat homes.

There is no denying that our community is in the throes of a housing crisis with the greatest impact falling on those who are working so hard to fuel our economy and keep this area attractive to guests, seasonal residents and those of us who are fortunate enough to live here year-round.  This housing crisis impacts every person and every family who simply cannot afford to live in the county where they work.  

We have taken to naming these groups of people using terms like “essential service workers” or “workforce” and often describe these as nurses, teachers, first responders, etc.   The reality is that we have a serious lack of inventory available at a price that is affordable for ANYONE who is making less than 100% of the area median income (newly adjusted to $98,600).   With more than 60% of our workforce making less than $32,000/year, even a two-income family is priced out of our market. 

We are all keenly aware of the issue and all are suffering from the fallout.  We’re already seeing businesses changing their hours, shortening their weeks, and even shutting their doors for good because they don’t have the staff available to stay open.   Collier County staff report that more than 48,000 members of our workforce are living out of the county, taking their wages elsewhere as they shop closer to home and paying taxes in other counties.   Traffic on major thoroughfares is snarled at the beginning and end of the workday.  And we can’t seem to agree on any solutions to this housing crisis.

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The Habitat for Humanity model, based on the investment of philanthropic gifts to purchase land and materials which is returned through the mortgage payments of qualified buyers, is ONE solution.  Using volunteer labor to supplement professional contractors, seeking in-kind gifts and forging partnerships with other stakeholders, controls costs.  Underwriting the mortgage loans without charging interest and assisting buyers in applying for down-payment assistance all contribute to this unique housing solution.

Collier’s affiliate of Habitat for Humanity is the largest producing in the US.   Since 2011, more than 1,000 homes have been built and in our 44-year history of building in Collier, nearly 2,400 families have helped to build and buy their Habitat homes.  In these homes, children have experienced stability. No longer moving from rental to rental as their parents seek housing that is safer, less costly or closer to work.   Families are healthier as they no longer live in poorly maintained and often inadequately ventilated units, infested with mold and mildew, rats and roaches.   And all members of Habitat built neighborhoods have the opportunity to thrive as community is built among the residents. 

In recent years, Habitat Collier has raised the bar on the home design process.   Today, Habitat built neighborhoods look no different than many market rate communities.  

There is indeed much to celebrate, and yet the urgent need continues to grow.   As the county’s only provider of access to affordable homeownership in Collier County, I invite and encourage everyone to learn more about how we can unite to build on the land that Habitat already owns and make sure that more of our dedicated workforce can live in the community that they support!   

The Rev. Lisa B. Lefkow is the Chief Executive Officer for Habitat of Humanity for Collier County. To learn more about Habitat for Humanity of Collier County, please call 239-775-0036 or visit www.HabitatCollier.org.