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Fort Myers housing project aims to sell vacant lots for affordable prices

Fort Myers wants to improve parts of the city where neighbors are currently stuck looking at unappealing lots, vacant properties or both. It would take abandoned lots and convert them into affordable homes.

Councilman Fred Burson told us the goal of the Fort Myers infill housing program is to put vacant plots of land in the city to good use.

“That is the intent, to improve the whole area through new construction,” Burson said.

Neighbor Steve Powell has lived in Fort Myers for 20 years and isn’t leaving anytime soon. But a property next-door does lower the value of his experience.

“Normally, people that move in, they stay like me, “ Powell said. “Because if I thought it was anything different, I wouldn’t be here.”

Powell acknowledged some of the unsightly, empty lots near his home.

“Yeah, like this one next to me right here,” Powell said. “It’s not kept clean or the grass cut, so there’s all kind of little critters hanging around, mosquitos and stuff.”

Powell likes the principles of the city’s goal with the housing program.

“Anything to improve in the neighborhood,” Powell said.

The goal of the project in Fort Myers is to also give a new homeowner an affordable opportunity.

“Helping somebody who needs a little bit of a helping hand, specifically the buyer,” Burson said. “That’s why we sell it to them at a discounted rate to help them get into it. That they might not otherwise be able to afford a home.”

A plot of land made available through the program went on sale for $4,000 and sold for $500.

“We give it to them at a discounted rate in exchange for building on it within the next three years,” Burson said.

Powell is looking forward to having neighbors and a new neighborhood.

“Oh yeah, because they’ve got houses building now,” Powell said. They’ve got one or two down the street, and I think one or two here. Yeah, so it’s improving a little bit.”

City considers adding background checks for development program

WINK News investigated and learned some property buyers might not be the upstanding citizens the city is hoping for. Two property buyers have serious arrest records.

The city sold a property to Ronnie Lee Tape and another one to Devarrous Phillips. Police arrested both of them three months after the property sales in Fort Myers.

“It’s not a good look,” Councilman Kevin Anderson said. “We don’t want to discriminate against people who have served time, payed their debt to society. They’re returning to the community.”

Anderson said the city’s infill housing program is meant to rehabilitate land, take abandoned property, resell it for construction and rehabilitate people.

“I’d rather lose out on those two then maybe deny someone else because they have a record who could really benefit and would use it for the right purpose,” Anderson said.

Neighbor Steve Powell is proud to live in Fort Myers.

“Real quiet, real peaceful, real friendly,” Powell said. “A nice place to settle down.”

But Powell told us that means the city needs to do background checks on every buyer.

“This is a real nice neighborhood, real peaceful, real quiet,” Powell said. “So you don’t know who’s who other than your neighbors.”

Anderson explained he is unsure background checks are ultimately necessary for the program.

“My first question would be, what would a background check accomplish?” Anderson said. “Sure, it’ll tell you about their past. But it won’t necessarily predict the future, and we don’t want to be in the position where we’re holding the past against people and preventing them from being able to take advantage of this program.”

Reporter:Anika Henanger
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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