New survey finds affordable housing in SWFL is a hot button issue

Southwest Florida is an area dominated by the service industry, and experts say high-paying jobs can be hard to come by.

At the beginning of last fall, thousands of people met for Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s group discussions to talk about what they feel are the greatest economic issues in the region.

Affordable housing was one of the main topics of discussion. Online websites say one-bedroom apartments run as much as $1,300 a month.

Thursday, we learned the affordable housing issue topped the first Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s “On the Table Survey.”

“What we hear the most is a lack of affordable rental housing,” said Amy Yearsley, a Cape Coral housing coordinator. “It really is tied to the lower wages that we have locally.”

 

Small paychecks and the high cost of rent are two top priorities identified in last fall’s “On the Table.” Mark Collins hosted one of the discussions and relayed peoples’ concerns for affordable housing in the area.

“One of the biggest problems that we did come up with is affordable housing,” Collins said. “Some employers there knew of people who share an apartment with 7, 8 people. They’re all working very hard, so then you get into the wage issue.”

It’s a problem Jim Wall with CareerSource Southwest Florida said he sees often.

“There are an abundance of jobs,” Wall said. “They are just not the most high-paying jobs. That’s why we see people with two or three jobs.”

Wall pointed out the top three fastest-growing jobs in Southwest Florida — retail, restaurant waiters and food prep.

“Eight out of the top 10 jobs in Southwest Florida require a high school [diploma] or less,” Wall said. “So it’s not a lot of high-skill, high-pay jobs.”

In Charlotte County, the board of county commissioners made a bold goal to add 3,650 new housing units by 2024 and even started an affordable housing task force.

“So we look at things like do we expedite permitting for affordable housing? Because the longer it takes to build, the more it costs,” Yearsley said. “So we look at things like that. Do we offer incentives for affordable housing? Do we reduce impact fees?

Yearsley said she and other experts look at the variety of things mentioned to try and incentivize the market.

And about 300 people filled out the surveys related to the talks they participated in. Seventy percent of survey participants said they felt hopeful about the future.

One more interesting nugget: When asked, “Who makes your community a better place to live?” Neighbors and community organizations come at the top.

“So, if we know that affordable housing is an issue, then the next step has to be finding ways to make it affordable,” J. Webb Horton.

And the foundation told us it knows the next step is continuing those talks to move toward solutions to the area. Foundation leaders said they will look to open discussion to draw more opportunities for higher-paying jobs to the region.

“So what’s next is to continue this commitment to dialogue,” said Sarah Owen with Southwest Florida Community Foundation.

MORE: ‘On the Table Survey’ results show optimism and engagement in community

Reporter:Brooke Shafer
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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