The Housing Crisis on Fort Myers Beach


(By Gigi Barse) Live like a local” as the saying goes. But what happens to a town when the delicate balance of year-round residents, snow-birds and vacationers tips heavily toward the latter? What happens to a town’s identity when its only “residents” are those renting VRBOs, AIRB&Bs, and hotel rooms?

I have lived on FMB for several years in an annual rental. My fiancé and I live like locals because we are locals—we work and reside on the island full time. But that status is quickly coming to an end as our rental home that we adore has been sold to the latest investors hoping to cash in on the vacation-rental boom.

We are out at the end of our lease in two months. And, it appears, we are out of luck to find another on-island annual rental. They are beyond scarce. And what is available is snapped up before the Trulia listing has been up for an hour. Never mind the non updated 1980s kitchen and bathrooms, the asbestos shingles, the jalousie windows and wall-to-wall stained carpet. Six folks are ahead of you wiling to pay 2500 for that.

When real estate agents convince owners to sell homes to investors for double, even triple what they paid for 5 years ago, we tenants become nameless, faceless beings in the way of buyers salivating for immediate, pricey vacation-rental bucks. As locals, you see, we are disposable.

But what about nearby apartments off-island? Those back-up places are becoming as limited as on-island rentals. Ask any rental agent at Sanibel Straits, Bay Breeze, Iona Lakes and others—they all reply the same way. “Sorry, we’re fully booked.” But you can always get on the wait list.

I wonder about the future of FMB as it cascades into becoming a 7-mile stretch of tourist-only visitors. As the snow birds age, will their children and grandchildren step up or sell out? What happens to a real estate bubble that shows no signs of bursting when it may only be a beach shooting, bullhorn-blasting preacher or hour-long backup of cars on Estero away from crashing?

So we look for housing further off island. We consider leaving the area altogether. We shrug and hope for the best. But one thing we know for sure, we are likely locals no more.

Gigi can be reached by e-mail at


  1. Been living on the island 7 months now. Many of the business owners and landlords don’t want Margaritaville. Why’s that? Well maybe with an organization that large and wealthy will force the city to clean the beach of cigarette butts bottles, caps, beer cans, liquor bottles and garbage in general. Maybe some business owners will be forced to bring their buildings up to code. Take a look at some of the buildings on Times Square. They are literally falling down. If the county were to inspect the rental properties they would find most of them would not get an occupancy certificate…assuming the county even requires one anymore. I know if I paid the ridiculous weekly rental price and showed up and saw the “dump” I just rented I’d be pissed. Face it. The north end of the island is a ghetto and most of the rentals are run by slumlords. Keep your eyes open because there will be a dump for rent very soon as I’ll be leaving Florida.

  2. A well written piece on a long ignored crises.
    So thankful I grew up on the island when it was a community and not a market.

  3. My husband and I who have worked at or owned Pete’s Time Out for over 37 years have not lived on the beach since 1985. We lived on island as renters in 1984 and early 85 but even back in 1985 we wanted to buy something and could not afford the homes on the beach. We bought a Mobil home up off of Pine Ridge road and lived there for over 6 years and then bought on San Carlos Island which was close and convenient snd very few of the mega houses were built there at that time. We lived there for 12 years then moved out off of Daniels – lived there almost 14years. We then decided we wanted to live on the water but if we wanted to be close to our business that was impossible. There really was little inventory then and what there was was outrageously priced! This was 3 1/2 years ago. So we moved 30 miles away from the beach to live out in Olga on the River. We love it and we love the calmness of it. Very few of our 26 or so employees live on the Beach. It’s unfortunate but it has happened and I don’t see any change in our area. Developers are building apartments continuously off of I75 and out by the college. But it is so needed within 7 or 8 miles from the beach. I hope soon someone will make it a reality for the many people who work on the Island. It is so needed.
    Oh and by the way we were at St Petersburg over the weekend where we parked in a parking garage and the 1st 4 hours was only $4 – overnight would have been $8. It was so nice!!!! Very friendly for those who work or visit that area. The town of FMB could definitely learn from some of these other areas.

    • I agree! What kills most beach towns is forcing the workers off the beach . We have this summer been very busy but as we all know that is not the case most summers! So in the off months who keeps us going? We do but not if we live off the beach.

  4. The Town needs to start implementing and enforcing some ordinances that really matter. Lay off the noise ordinances and start coming up with ordinances that preserve what we have. Like Key West has done. I know Key West is expensive as all get out, but at least it’s not sky scrapers. It won’t solve all the housing problems, but at least preserve the beach cottages we have. Stop permitting that they take them down to build big ugly gray houses. This is the whole purpose of having our own town – take care of the local needs and interests. If they can’t provide safety and preservation of what we love, why on earth are we paying extra taxes to the town? Help us or give the town back to the county, which at least won’t be as impossible to deal with.

  5. Not just renters share your dispair. We have owned and lived full time on FMB since 1995. And sadly have reached the end of our rope when it comes to traffic and local politics. I can’t imagine the SNAFU about to develop when and if Margaritaville gets built. Funny thing is where I worked until recently, I had the chance to survey a hundred or more locals and tourist a week and the sentiment, at least in my judgement was overwhelming against planting a mega resort at the base of the bridge, Margaritaville or otherwise. But from the hype and BS coming from the now defunct Sand Paper, town council, and other social media you’d never guess it. I’ve traveled the entire state, visited every beach town Florida has to offer. There’s only a handful of towns like FMB left, and soon, this quaint sliver of sand too will surcumb to developer greed. I get it and I guess there’s no way to stop it but I don’t have to live with it anymore.

  6. Gigi….I too am in the same boat..My husband & I both work & live on Island..our rental is being sold too..can’t find anywhere in my car is what it will be now 😥

  7. We are facing the same. Our annual rental of 3 years is being sold. Fortunately, my mom is helping us buy a home in Bonita. We were not surprised when the owner notified us. I work at the south end of FMB and husband works in Naples. My daughter attended FMB elementary. We have always lived on island as annual renters. Like Gigi we found not one rental we could afford on or near the beach. So, with the wonderful help of my mom, are buying a small, modest home in Bonita. It’s sad because I love FMB. I grew up here. Prayers to all of the renters out there. When the workers of this beautiful island have no where to live, what then?

  8. Unfortunately this is not specific to the island. It is a nation wide real estate CRISIS/shortage which forces a market-wide SPIKE/increase in value, because of the (historic) lowest inventory in 30 years. And now the low inventory perseveration is becoming chronic due to the unbelievable inflation in building supplies which is shutting down “new construction”. Then throw in the mass migration of citizens from northern “shut down” states, during the peak of the pandemic and it has become just unprecedented. Real Estate agents don’t have to talk people into selling at triple the amount because even without an agent, this current price uptick is fueled by shear demand. There just aren’t enough houses to go around. I watched the market within a small little 150 year old “Coal town” , here in the rust belt district of PA, go from a general housing value of 10,0000-25,000 for a sub-standard, company built, 100 year old stick house to selling for close to 200,000. And that was with standing water in the basement. Something gotta give, but with the current inflation rate, I’m afraid it is going to get worse. My thoughts and prayers are with you that you find a home,

  9. I’ve worried about this for years. I’m worried for our school and worried about the actual fabric of our community. My hope is that at least a small fraction of the new home owners will be younger families, but I fear that is a pipe dream. At least with School of Choice, perhaps some of the off-island employees could take advantage of the school. It would be a shame if kids didn’t have the opportunity to attend this fantastic elementary school.

  10. This is so sad, Gigi. As many of the younger generation leave the island for housing, I’m sure they will find employment elsewhere too. One of the domino effects from this is a decrease in enrollment at our Beach Elementary School. How long can it survive? This too is sad. Good luck to you and your family, Gigi.

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