Increasing housing prices in Lee County may impede economic growth

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Public housing. Credit: WINK News)

Affordable housing can be hard to find in Southwest Florida. Many people shell out more than $1,000 a month on rent in Lee County. Realtors said home sales below $200,000 are rare.

Now, lawmakers are pushing a bill forward that some worry could make it even harder.

“Basically, I’m homeless right now,” Phil Lipscomb said.

Lipscomb works three jobs and said he still can not afford housing.

“I’m currently just staying with a friend,” Lipscomb said. “Right now, I’m just working and try to pay my bills and save up enough money to rent.”

Lipscomb is like many in Lee County where the average rent is over $1,200 a month according to multiple listing service stats on a two bedroom.

Lawmakers have sent a bill to Gov. Ron DeSantis that would keep local governments from mandating affordable housing requirements on developers. They have also put $200 million in the budget for affordable housing, but a majority will be allocated to the panhandle to help people recover from Hurricane Michael.

“It seems there’s no rent control at all,” Lipscomb said. “The costs keep going up.”

Proponents said the bill would allow a free market to provide affordable housing options without artificial government-imposed price controls.

“I don’t think we want to see rent control,” said Genice Sloan, a realtor based in Fort Myers. “I think it stymies the growth of the area.”

One of them is supposed to go up in downtown Fort Myers. But the average rent would still be over $1,500.

Sloan said that not being able to afford rent leads to more significant problems for our economy. A growing population that is hoping to be met with affordable options.

“If they cannot move through that system to be a homeowner,” Sloan said, “then we don’t continually grow our population.”

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