The City Council of Fort Myers, Florida, approved an ordinance in January to create an Affordable Housing Trust Fund Rental Assistance program that will provide monthly assistance to households with incomes at or below 100% of area median income (AMI). In addition to rental assistance, the Affordable Housing Trust Fund program will provide the city with the means to create homes affordable for renters. Community leaders have noted that the program is only one of many approaches that the municipal government can take in addressing housing affordability challenges in Fort Myers. However, as many emergency rental assistance programs across the country close due to insufficient federal funding, Fort Myers has sought to replace federal dollars with local funds to address the need for affordable housing in the community.
The new program will provide the residents of Fort Meyers with a means of achieving housing stability. Eligible residents will receive one-time payments, based on a sliding scale formula, to help them attain stable housing. To be eligible for rental assistance, a household must have an income at or below 100% of AMI. It is not yet known how the program will target the families most in need of assistance – those families and individuals with extremely low incomes (at or below 30% of AMI). City staff will accept up to 150 applications every year and expect to budget around $400,000 annually to meet demand. The program will be run on a first-come, first-served basis instead of utilizing processes like categorical eligibility, which provide a more equitable distribution of funds to households most in need. NLIHC’s ERASE project recommends that rental assistance programs use processes like categorical eligibility or fact-specific proxy (i.e., verifying an individual’s eligibility by determining whether they receive assistance via another government assistance program, or by using census tract information) to target funds to households most in need.
Even so, the program offers hope to many low-income families and households in Fort Myers. NLIHC’s Out of Reach data indicate that Lee County, where Fort Myers is located, has an estimated median renter household income of $48,530, while the average family in the county needs an estimated income of $49,240 to afford a two-bedroom rental home at Fair Market Rent (FMR) and $64,120 to afford a three-bedroom rental home.
Housing advocates in Florida are eager to see how the program helps households in the state. “Given the state of Florida's affordable housing crisis, it is incredibly encouraging to see Fort Myers join the cadre of local governments using their own locally sourced funds on affordable housing initiatives rather than rely solely on state and federal dollars,” said Kody Glazer, legal and policy director of the Florida Housing Coalition. “Fort Myers has stepped up in a great way with this tenant stabilization measure, and we are thrilled for the renters that will be aided through this effort.”
City staff are in the process of creating the online application and the rental assistance program agreement for apartment operators. As of the time of writing, the program has not officially opened, but the city’s Community Development Department anticipates that program applications will become available in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, feedback received by city employees suggests strong interest in the program among community members.
Renters interested in Fort Myers’s rental assistance program can find more information here. Eligible tenants will have to enter an agreement with city, and the agreement will be provided to apartment operators. The city urges interested parties to reach out with questions to Steven Belden, community development director for Fort Myers, at [email protected].