Charlotte County: Ian made affordable housing situation worse

By NANCY J. SEMON, STAFF WRITER, The Daily Sun, Dec 11, 2022.

PORT CHARLOTTE — Hurricane Ian made the lack of affordable and subsidized housing worse, members of the Charlotte County Affordable Housing Advisory Committee (AHAC) believe.

The good news is Charlotte County’s strategic plan for 2021-22 is to add 200 new affordable housing units per year over the next five years, said Gordon Burger.

Burger is Charlotte County budget director. He addressed the hurricane’s impact.

Burger said the county is working to put more affordable dwellings in the county.

It will be updating zoning regulations to make it cheaper to build housing while preserving the character of neighborhoods and creating a “financial toolbox” such as land donations, impact-fee waivers, low-interest loans, subsidies, tax credits and incentives to lower housing costs, he said.

But he and members of the committee discussed setbacks Hurricane Ian caused — and what might happen next.

Commissioner Joe Tiseo, who sits on the Advisory Committee, said the situation might mimic what happened post-Hurricane Charley in 2004 when people flocked to the area and bought up damaged homes, renovated them, then turned them into rentals.

Some committee members said it was unaffordable to live in Charlotte County due to the average wages and price of rentals.

“Where do you go where it’s cheaper?” Tiseo asked. “They (would) have to leave the state.”

Punta Gorda Housing Authority Executive Director Kurt Pentelecuc, who is the committee vice chair, spoke of the lack of housing.

“I can’t fill vouchers here,” he said.

He said he’s stopped giving them out, as now there are fewer units than before the storm.

Carrie Walsh, the county’s director of human services, said people who were vulnerable before the storm are more vulnerable now.

“There’s not much we can do,” Walsh said.

The next layer of those affected by less affordable housing units and high rentals is the workforce, she said.

“Workers whose rents are $2,500 per month are hanging on by the tips of their fingernails,” she said.

Burger talked about inflation, and the committee discussed the exit of service workers being driven out and becoming the “working poor.”

Some discussed restaurants being half-empty because more patrons can’t be seated due to a shortage of workers.

Charlotte County’s human services manager Colleen Turner said the solution is for the county to invest in more affordable housing.

Gulf Coast Partnership CEO Angela Hogan, whose nonprofit seeks to find housing for the homeless and low-income individuals and families, said many teachers say they can’t afford to live in Charlotte County.

She said a teacher who was offered a salary in the low $50,000s, but couldn’t afford rent for a three-bedroom home. Walsh said in Collier County, there is a “divide between the haves and the have nots” in Naples and Immokalee.

“It can happen here,” she said. Several members of the committee agreed real estate prices can’t continue going up, as the market is cyclical, and some talked about a real estate crash.

But Tiseo predicted the real estate recession post-Hurricane Charley was due to “banks giving signature loans,” and said to get a mortgage now, “You’ve got to be squeaky clean.”

Walsh said the continued demand for real estate in Southwest Florida and Charlotte County in particular.

“In all the states, we are an anomaly … we have so much demand and not enough supply.”

Burger addressed a possible full-blown recession and how that would impact the goal of creating affordable housing.

Tiseo said it could be an opportunity for people who previously couldn’t afford a home here.

But Turner called it “a Catch-22,” as “people will be driven out of housing.”

The next regular meeting of the AHAC will be Feb. 22 at the Family Services Center, 21500 Gibralter Drive, Port Charlotte.