Companies exploring ways to help employees afford housing in SWFL

Reporter: Dannielle Garcia Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:

If you are looking for a cheap apartment with a great view in Southwest Florida, good luck. Fort Myers is the second most overpriced rental market in the country, and businesses are having trouble keeping employees because of that high cost of living.

As most people know firsthand, salaries here aren’t always matched up with the cost of living. Some companies can raise wages, but not enough to make an affordable living in Southwest Florida.

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Many employees are working longer hours or having to move farther away from their jobs to afford rent.

Many things make living in Southwest Florida attractive, but housing is not one of them.

Ryan Carter, the president of Scotlynn, a transportation company, says the housing crisis is a big issue for them right now.

“I think, you know, locally, we have little more lux, we hired newer college grads, so they have the ability to find roommates and things like that to, you know, lower their costs for rentals, but out when we hire people, say, from Michigan or New York, or, you know, just anywhere else even. That’s the first thing that there’s any objection moving down here. It’s asking, you know, where can I live that’s affordable,” said Carter.

Terrence Elie and Walter Hernandez attend Fort Myers Technical College.

“I actually had been looking a whole year into getting this apartment. It felt like it took forever finding an affordable apartment,” said Elie.

They work to go to school.

“I actually have two jobs, and I go to school too, so it’s a little difficult. I usually go right after school, I go straight to work. I get off at maybe 11 or 12, and then I wake up at six to go to school,” said Hernandez.

Hernandez said after graduation, “It got me thinking like once I’m done with the school, I’ll probably just move.”

Carter says his company is getting creative to help employees.

“Yeah, so we’ve tossed around the idea of actually creating our own housing. We hired a pretty substantial amount of people each year, and we’ve thought about, you know, building some multifamily not, you know, not as big as like, a huge apartment complex with say, you know, a 10-20 person type facility,” said Carter.

Not every company can purchase or build housing for their employees. Many of the businesses that WINK News reached out to said the lack of affordable housing makes it harder to find employees.

The Lee County School District said they are working with partners to find long-term solutions, but for now, they are helping newly hired teachers find roommates.

No matter the income level, everyone from doctors to waiters are necessary for a community, and all of those people need somewhere to live.

“So originally our rental back in, we moved in July 2020. We moved in for $1,650 to a two bed two bath apartment we saw an increase after one year go up to $1,900 and now it is up to $2,200,” said Kevin Mulligan, an employee at Scotlynn.

Mulligan knows the housing struggle because he lives it. The rent keeps going up, and the inventory is going down.

“They’re leaving somewhere where they live at a certain level, and they’re gonna have to take a significant downgrade when they move here,” said Carter.

Carter says it makes it tough to attract new candidates. “This summer, we have a bunch of interns from the University of Auburn and we had the hardest time finding anywhere for them to stay just for a summer. Obviously, the price is a problem, but just availability. And so we ended up renting out dorm rooms from FGCU.”

It’s not an isolated problem, Fort Myers’ largest employer, Lee Health, is also looking at ways to get creative because as the community grows, the hospital system will need to expand too, and a big part of that is housing.

“We’ve looked at a number of opportunities, including partnering with developers, we’ve looked, we’ve talked to other organizations in town, to see how we might partner with them. We’ve offered relocation bonuses, which are sizable enough to help address some of those issues for those moving in to Southwest Florida,” said Mike Wukitcsch, head of human resources at Lee Health.

Businesses are paying attention and taking a harder look at what they can do for their employees, but there are some who can’t afford that.

Some employees are forced to work longer hours or live farther from their jobs to afford a place to live.

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