Fort Myers Beach Town Councilman Bill Veach would like to see a portion of the $1.1 Billion Lee County was granted from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to go toward workforce housing on Fort Myers Beach. And, he’s come up with a unique idea to pitch to the county for those funds.
Hurricane Ian did a lot of damage to Fort Myers Beach, however, one thing it did not do was make purchasing a home more affordable. In fact, property values have gone up despite the destruction. It’s nearly impossible for anyone who works on Fort Myers Beach to live on Fort Myers Beach. Throw in the traffic issues getting on and off the island and that makes it even more difficult for employers to find workers.
The HUD funds granted to Lee County can only be spent on a limited number of eligible activities related to impacts from Hurricane Ian; housing, infrastructure, economic revitalization, public services and planning. At least 70% of the grant must be used for projects that benefit Low-to-Moderate Income households, which HUD defines as a family at or below 80% of Area Median Income. For example, in Lee County a single-person household would qualify at $47,700 or less per year, whereas the limit for total household income is $68,100 per year for a family of four. There’s a question as to whether any of Fort Myers Beach fits into the Low-to-Moderate Income category.
So how does Councilman Bill Veach think any of that money will come to Fort Myers Beach? Every single church on the island suffered significant damage thanks to Ian. And that’s where Veach’s idea comes in. “We have small congregations with big lots.”
Veach wants to try to get funding from Resilient Lee to purchase land from the churches and build workforce housing on those properties. He says this is the time to think big. “What I’m proposing is that the town uses grant block money to buy the majority of the (church) lot and use the grant block money to build workforce housing. It would then get turned over to a housing entity similar to Sanibel or the county. We use objective criteria to allocate those spots, meaning number of years as a full time employee on the island, extra points if you’re a teacher, a cop, a fireman or if you work for the town. Then the housing is allocated by a point system. It’s not putting your brother in there, not a friends and family thing. It’s true workforce housing.”
Veach says the church’s would benefit because they could use the proceeds from the land sale, whatever insurance they might have, and other public assistance to build their buildings back, “a smaller church on a smaller lot.”
Veach says he would like the town to make an offer to any church interested. “I’ve had some conversations with one church and got a positive response from it. My preference is in areas that are not quite as single family home as Beach Baptist. This is surrounded 360 degrees by single family homes. In transparency including mine.”
A big question would be is that HUD grant money eligible for this idea. Veach says while he doesn’t make the final decision on that, this is HUD money and this is what it was meant for. “The idea of workforce housing is live where you work. In order to do that you have to build the housing here. It qualifies technically but it’s a lot of money and there are a lot of hands out for it. I’m on the Resilient Lee Committee so I’ll bring it up. We have a series of stages we go through. Lee County Commissioner Kevin Ruane is also an important piece of this puzzle. I’m sure one of the downsides we have is our price per door is going to be higher because our land is more expensive but it’s something you have to do if you want to have people live where they work.”
Watch our interview with Councilman Bill Veach from the special Beach Baptist meeting on May 25th HERE. Come to Wahoo Willie’s tomorrow to watch our show live. Our guest will be Lee County Commissioner Kevin Ruane.