Your Turn: Collier County’s housing crisis affects us all

Essential workers often can't afford to live here

Katherine "Kitty" Keane
Greater Naples Leadership
Editorial cartoon

This past Wednesday, the organization I lead, Greater Naples Leadership (GNL), presented a free Community Forum to raise awareness of how the lack of affordable housing is hurting our quality of life. Over 400 citizens and local officials came to learn from a group of business and nonprofit leaders and seven employees how this crisis affects them and all of us.

A common theme emerged. Major employers from health care, education, law enforcement, retailers and hospitality are having difficulty hiring and retaining employees who cannot afford to live in Collier County. The situation is so critical that several of them are partnering with others and funding housing options for some of their workers. All agree that the need is so great that we must do more and actively seek creative solutions.

We heard heartbreaking stories of teachers, health care workers and others who barely make ends meet to pay their astronomical rent. We heard from a 75-year-old woman – a dedicated cashier for 20 years at a local hardware store -- who no longer can afford her apartment now that the rent has doubled. Her employer’s ability to provide funding from their foundation saved her from becoming homeless.

Sadly, they are not alone. A significant number of essential workers like nurses, police, teachers and restaurant employees are being priced out of Collier County. Recent Realtor statistics show that rental increases in Collier County are now the highest in the country.  Furthermore, over 48,000 workers in Collier County are now commuting to their jobs from other counties. This is not a sustainable situation.

Already we are seeing significant workforce shortages in many businesses and government offices. If we want police protection in our community and health care at NCH; if we would like to be served at our clubhouses and restaurants, have our lawns mowed, and communities maintained, then there must be affordable places to live for those doing these jobs. 

Other parts of Florida are making progress by passing ordinances increasing density per acre, donating excess land to land trusts, easing zoning restrictions, etc. It’s time for Collier County to follow their example.

Working together, we can find solutions. Start by telling your local government officials that you support building affordable housing for workers in our community.  Contact information and sample letters are posted on the GNL website. Go to gnlwebsite.org to learn more.

Forum co-sponsors included the NCH Healthcare System, the Collier Community Foundation, the League of Women Voters of Collier County, The Justice Committee of the Naples United Church of Christ, and media sponsor Naples Daily News.  

Katherine "Kitty" Keane is president of Greater Naples Leadership: For more than 25 years, GNL has educated many new or recent residents about the important issues and needs in the community, encouraging them to use their skills in bettering the community.  GNL now has over 500 active members providing volunteer services in over 200 community nonprofit and civic organizations.