In January 2023 Greater Naples Leadership sponsored a forum to shine a light on the shortage of workforce housing here in Collier County. The goal of the event was to bring together stakeholders, educate the public, and inspire action. Simply put, some workers in our community cannot afford to live here. That includes teachers, first responders, health care professionals and hospitality workers.

Along with partnering sponsors, Naples Daily News, Collier Community Foundation, NCH Healthcare System, the Naples United Church of Christ Justice Committee, and the Collier League of Women Voters, the event drew nearly 900 people and received broad coverage in local press and broadcast media.

Lack of workforce housing has been an issue for many years but recent population growth, economic development and rising housing prices in our area have made it an urgent problem. Much still needs to be done.

Greater Naples Leadership (GNL) applauds the many efforts underway as public and private collaborations strive to find urgently needed solutions. Collier County’s partnership with McDowell Housing Partners has two workforce housing projects currently under construction. Another county partnership, including three philanthropies and the nonprofit developer Rural Neighborhoods, is scheduled to break ground at the end of November. Together these projects will provide more than 500 units.

Habitat Collier and the Immokalee Fair Housing Alliance are other great examples. Over the past 40 years Habitat Collier has constructed more than 2,500 homes. Currently, they have multiple developments under construction that together will offer 500 more. Many GNL members have stepped up to be part of the solution. Nineteen GNL members and their spouses recently rolled up their sleeves to help paint and caulk in the Habitat Collier Whitaker Woods community. Carl Kuehner, Joe Trachtenberg, and Jerry Godshaw are members of the Board.

After hurricane Irma tore through Immokalee in 2017, the housing crisis in that agricultural area became even more unbearable. In the wake of the disaster, a group gathered together to find a way to help Immokalee farmworker families and low-income residents. GNL member Carleton Cleveland (Cleve) was among the first to join, while members Hal Hills, Barbara Hurt-Simmons, and Jan Temkiewicz enthusiastically stepped up as the initial fundraising plans developed. As a result, the Immokalee Fair Housing Alliance (IFHA) was formed with a network of resources, including government, private business, churches, civic groups and nonprofit agencies.

Today, one of the planned eight buildings in the new housing complex is nearing completion. Ultimately there will be 128 units with rents at about 30% of the resident’s income. “IFHA is focused on providing stability to farmworker families,” Cleve says. “Unlike migrant workers, a lot of farmworker families don’t leave. Or if one parent has to leave, the other stays in Immokalee with the children. We’re creating a sustainable community where kids will have a welcoming place to study complete with computer access, and they won’t have to move.”

GNL members are diverse professionals committed to being a catalyst for change not only for workforce housing but also for a wide range of Collier County needs through volunteering in both nonprofit and civic roles.

Fort Myers News-Press November 22, 2023 – Elizabeth Strong (article online)

Elizabeth Strong is a resident of Naples and a graduate of Greater Naples Leadership Class XXV. She is an active volunteer with Collier Community Foundation, Greater Naples Leadership, and St. Matthew’s House.