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Council explores affordable housing

Fort Myers Beach could encourage workforce housing, discourage second-homes and short-term rentals

By Nathan Mayberg - Editor | Sep 7, 2021

The Town of Fort Myers Beach Council is discussing how to make affordable housing more possible in the process of updating its comprehensive plan.

In a town where the census in 2019 showed an estimated 7,094 which is down from 9,284 in 1990 as more homes have been converted for short-term vacation rentals and second-homes, the council is addressing a housing situation where few units are affordable for island workers.

Mayor Ray Murphy said “I like the idea (of affordable housing). It’s something that we need. There is no doubt about it. Where it is going to be at – that part I have no idea. The people that are working down here should be making enough money to live down here.”

Murphy said workers on Fort Myers Beach used to live on the island but that has changed with rising property values and “exorbitant rents.”

Councilmember Jim Atterholt said “I think we need to think long-term for workers.”

Atterholt said whe ould like to see the town’s comprehensive plan updated to make workforce housing a priority.

At a management and planning session of the town council in August to discuss the town’s updated comprehensive plan, consultant Edward Ng of the Miami-based Corradino Group was off to an awkward step with the councilmembers after a presentation he gave had average rental rates for homes in the Fort Myers Beach zip code far below market rate for those within the town and on the island.

Corradino’s slide presentation showed the median month housing rentals on the Fort Myers Beach census area to be $728 and the average housing cost to be $1,449 with 77% of housing owner occupied.

Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros quickly interrupted him. “Where is that number coming from? $728 sounds extremely low,” Hosafros said.

Ng said the data was pulled from the Center for Neighborhood Technology, a nonprofit organization which develops a housing affordability index. “You have about six census blocks,” Ng said.

“The caveat to this is the census data is only as good as what the survey input is,” Ng said.

Hosafros said she was the town council’s representative to the census and “I was under the impression that we were our own area.”

Fort Myers Beach Community Development Director Jason Green said “we know that on the island it is much higher than that.”

Still, Ng said the town is “severely cost-burdened” for affordable housing.

“It’s not very useful data though,” Hosafros said. “If we recognize it’s not useful I don’t know why we are looking at it.”

Hosafros, who has expressed support for encouraging more affordable housing in town, said she believes the statistic provided that 77% of units are owner-occupied is also off.

How to encourage affordable housing

The consultants suggested potential fees for owners of second homes who are either not using them for part of the year or renting them out as short-term vacation rentals, in order to discourage the second-home buying.

Town of Fort Myers Beach Attorney John Herin Jr. said the council could adopt a policy to charge residents a fee for owning a second home if they are not a full-time resident. Herin said he would like to research such fees further that have been used in other communities.

Councilmember Bill Veach said “other municipalities if that’s not your primary home then your property taxes triple,.” Veach also said he wants to ensure the comprehensive plan also “takes care of nature on the island.”

He inquired about potential ways the town could encourage affordable housing, including rent controls. Herin said rent controls are not an option as they are specifically prohibited in Florida though the town could create an affordable housing program where the income and rent can be tied together.

“You can set parameters based on affordable housing, based on a formula based upon a person’s income,” Veach said. Herin said that was correct.

Hosafros would like to see affordable housing on the top floors of commercial buildings while limiting short-term rentals.

The town’s comprehensive plan could also discourage second-home ownership under scenarios being considered by the council and its consultants by either second-home fees, impact fees or by restricting short-term rentals.

Murphy said a fee on second-homes could be a potential “cash cow on this island if there was a fee if that money were directed directly toward affordable housing.”

Green said density will be the major issue in making considerations for affordable housing. Green said the town could make tradeoffs with developers to ensure some of the units were affordable.

Other options suggested by Ng include impact fees on new homes and incentives in the code to allow for mixed uses and higher density projects for workforce housing.