There’s been a lot of talk and little action during the reign of this current Collier County Commission. Every day we pay for another study and hire another team of consultants and then three or four months later we get an action plan to solve some issue and then totally reject it and go back to the cycle of hiring attorneys, consultants and planners.
One issue in particular is “affordable housing.” The term is only used by county leaders to skew the number of housing units in commission districts where the current county government and Habitat for Humanity organization either own land, want to buy land or have alternative sites (parks) available to turn to housing.
This doesn’t take into respect other sources of market housing that is affordable. In an East Naples Civic Association analysis of ZIP codes 34104, 34105, 34112, 34113 and 34114, it was determined that East Naples has more than 50 percent of dwellings valued at $250,000 or less as compared to the county. Spread throughout the county, there are at least 1,440 approved homes Habitat has built in East Naples not represented by the plan; it’s safe to surmise other commission district numbers have been swollen or suppressed to support staff’s recommendations, over the betterment of our community.
The focus is on building “affordable housing” in East Naples, particularly in the Bayshore arts district and along U.S. 41 East. Yet, the one thing that stands out is the lack of economic diversity. There are no jobs in these areas; storage units, a few small auto repair shops and some minor outlying retail areas. There are no hotels, no business complexes for new industry, just blighted, empty, old shopping centers decaying away along with the infrastructure in the area, beckoning for the return of Kelly Road and the impoverished, crime-riddled area surrounding it.
County leaders should focus on housing, but focus it where the jobs are, where people can have shorter commutes and not clog up arterial roads for 30- to 60-minute commutes on U.S. 41, Collier Boulevard, Pine Ridge Road and Airport-Pulling Road. We have some great business sectors in North Naples, with a job density ratio over twice that of similar areas in East Naples.
North Naples doesn’t have housing that’s affordable; neither does the city of Naples. This forces the majority of northbound traffic onto U.S. 41 and westbound traffic onto Pine Ridge Road throughout the day as many workers have shifts which create multiple work traffic times on these roads. If there was workforce housing in North Naples and Naples, we would see an immense shift in traffic problems.
Incentivizing the growth of mixed-income housing around activity centers should be encouraged only where the needs of economic diversity, infrastructure and commercial resources are met to support the increase in population.
Unfortunately for Collier citizens, young families and workers, commissioners have ganged up to keep a NIMBY mentality of keeping housing that is affordable out of certain districts and piling it up all in one area; 52 percent of it exists in East Naples, while the overwhelming majority of the jobs are located miles to the north.
For the sake of our infrastructure, county leaders must shift the focus of taxpayer dollars, particularly over $1 million of community redevelopment grants, away from multimillion-dollar nonprofits which only buy land and build low-income communities that teachers, firefighters, EMS and small business owners don’t qualify for, and instead use those funds to redevelop business and commerce zones in East Naples, build up a world-class Bayshore arts district and create an environment for economic diversity and, in time, housing that is affordable for those workers.
Winge is a member of the board of directors of the East Naples Civic Association.