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“Affordable” “Workforce” Solutions?

I’ve been having discussions with our staff regarding “affordable” or “workforce” housing in Collier County.  Many of our staff have been here for years, and we have been fortunate to hire a few to replace retirees. My question is how are those who are here doing it? Housing costs have continued to rise, which puts a strain on essential workers such as health care, education, law enforcement, and government offices like the Clerk’s office as well as all of the businesses who struggle to retain or hire staff. Communities, organizations, and residents have been sounding the drums, demanding that “the government” act, the problem may be that we are the government.  Each taxpayer, and even visitors help to shape our community through their funding of services and expectations that Naples remain Paradise.  

I’ve been in Collier since 1988, we have had a “housing crisis” for years, it is, and has been, more expensive to live in Collier than in other areas of our state. Our recent market, with the huge influx of population to Florida, and particularly Naples, have again brought the issue to the forefront by creating demand for which there was minimal supply.    

How do we solve this crisis?  

Collier County’s Community & Human Services (CHS) Division has been working with non-profit organizations and other government agencies to implement programs that would grant eligible citizens subsidies to fund their housing. However, this does not fix the root of the problem. As the county population grows, more and more people will seek housing assistance. To implement more subsidies, the government will be forced to raise taxes or reallocate funds from existing budgets. There is no “government” money, it is taxpayer (property tax, sales tax, doc stamps on all of us buying houses) money generated by us that is redistributed from payers to recipients. These programs have funded millions of dollars in Collier County to solve the crisis, but the crisis remains.    

Our court-related budget for FY2023 is $3 million less than our FY2007 budget. Collier County’s employers – large and small – have had no choice but to adapt by increasing workforce salaries, car/gas benefits, building their own employee housing, and more to retain their workers. Yet, worker shortage remains a problem 

Collier County has put hundreds of millions of our program dollars into mortgage assistance during COVID, downpayment assistance for first-time home buyers, and rental assistance. Despite that investment, we haven’t seen a meaningful drop in affordable housing need. As taxpayers, we need to put emotions aside and take a hard look at something different than subsidy programs.  

Instead of relying on government programs that are funded by payor dollars, we as a community need to commit to finding a lasting solution. Putting people to work is an important part of any solution. There are hundreds of unfilled jobs in Collier County, many of which offer health and other benefits. Perhaps innovation is needed, or maybe going back in time and encouraging multi-generational housing (families supporting families), individually looking for ways to share housing between friends, neighbors, relatives, or co-workers. Rethinking the way we live, work and play is how we will build a truly sustainable economy where we have enough workers, businesses, and residents to thrive.  

The harsh reality is that not everyone can afford even “affordable housing” in Collier County, some will have to commute from surrounding communities, some will have to have multiple jobs to survive and yes some of us will take in children or elderly parents to keep the family together here in Naples. On the other hand, this might be the very key to building a very strong community and stronger families and friends that pull together to solve their problems.