The Housing Crisis on Fort Myers Beach

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(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 gigibarse@gmail.com

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