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Habitat holds dedication for planned 36-home community

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Feb 27, 2023

On Thursday, Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties held a dedication for McNeill Village, a new affordable home community to be build the north off Pondella Road in North Fort Myers.

The journey may have taken nearly two-and-a-half years but on Thursday, Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties held a dedication for McNeill Village, a new affordable home community to be built north of Pondella Road in North Fort Myers.

Local advocates, recipients and dignitaries came for the early morning ceremony to celebrate the future site of 36 single-family Habitat homes in a community that will include a lake and a small park.

Becky Lucas, president and CEO of the local Habitat chapter, said Habitat has owned the property on Tanya Circle for several years but was unable to develop it until the organization got a grant for the site work needed, including utilities and roads.

“We didn’t have the funds for the infrastructure. That’s when the Board of County Commissioners stepped and gave us a grant for the infrastructure of this property,” Lucas said. “Now, we can go vertical and start building these homes.”

Commissioner Brian Hamman said these communities provide the opportunity at real homeownership, build equity, provide affordable housing and work toward their version of the American dream.

“For the last couple years, the biggest concern that has been brought to the commissioners is what we’re going to do about the skyrocketing housing crisis. It’s something that takes a toll on teachers and first responders, folks like us who make normal amounts of money,” Hamman said. “It would have been hard for me to afford a $400,000 home early in my career, so the gives people the opportunity to start building wealth and owning a home.”

The homes will go to hard-working, low-income families who earn between 30 and 80 percent of the area’s median income and are willing to put in 300 hours of sweat equity to help build their home or other homes. They also take budgeting and home maintenance classes under the umbrella of financial literacy to become successful homeowners.

The homes will be paid for with a Habitat mortgage loan at zero percent interest.

“Homeowners are chosen based on their need, their ability to pay and willingness to partner with us,” Lucas said. “We look at work history, perform background checks and have to be willing to put in the sweat equity. It’s a process and it takes between six months and a year to go through it before we close on a home.”

Communities like these are becoming more important with the cost of rent, homes and insurance skyrocketing by the day. Lucas said it’s been a challenge to offer affordable housing with the increase in regulations and insurance.

“All these things contribute to homeowners minimizing their ability to purchase a home. This is the most overvalued rental market in the country according to a December study done by FGCU, Florida Atlantic and the University of Alabama,” Lucas said, with rentals averaging around $2,200 per month. “This is the solution. Being able to provide 36 families with an opportunity to have an affordable home, they would otherwise not have an affordable place to live.”

Elsie Cruz is going to be one of the recipients and she was emotional and grateful for the opportunity to leave her nearby one-bedroom apartment to a real home with her son.

“It’s like a miracle for me, a dream come true,” Cruz said as the tears welled up. “I live in the living room. To have my own living room and bedroom makes me excited.”