Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Waiting list surges for city-developed apartments in Fort Myers

In an attempt to fill the need, a generational project in an area in desperate need of transformation moves forward.

  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 5:00 a.m. April 26, 2023
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
The Greater Dunbar Initiative recently received $8 million funding.
The Greater Dunbar Initiative recently received $8 million funding.
Courtesy photo
  • Residential Real Estate
  • Share

Over 10,000 people are currently on a waiting list for a city-developed apartment in Fort Myers — a jarring number considering it’s more than 10% of the city’s total population of 92,000. 

That figure is also what drives Housing Authority of the City of Fort Myers Executive Director Marcia Davis. The reasons the need has ballooned of late, Davis says, range from the obvious, such as Hurricane Ian displacement and massive rent increases in other buildings, to the more specific, like job loss. “Sometimes it feels like it’s just one thing after another,” says Davis, who has overseen the housing authority since late 2018. 

The good news? The city hit a major milestone recently with a new wave of funding for The Greater Dunbar Initiative. A $362 million project designed to revitalize a portion of the Dunbar community east of downtown Fort Myers, funds are coming from a variety of sources. On the government side there’s federal, state and local funds, which will cover about half the construction costs. The city of Fort Myers, for example, early on in the project committed to a $7 million investment into infrastructure improvement. On the private side, there’s a combination of private equity and debt financing. 

Marcia Davis
Courtesy photo

Davis calls it a “big deal” that a place like Dunbar, which has “long been neglected” is getting some attention — and money. 

The most recent funding announcement, of $8 million, comes nearly two years after the Dunbar project received a separate $30 million grant through the federal Choice Neighborhood Initiative. The $8 million, according to a statement, is split between $5 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and a $3 million federal appropriation. U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, “a longtime advocate for affordable housing in Southwest Florida,” a press release states, helped secure the federal appropriation.

The $5 million portion, the release adds, “will support The Greater Dunbar Initiative in overcoming rising construction costs and improving housing options within the Southward Village public housing community in Fort Myers.” Davis, in an interview following the funding announcement, says construction costs have risen 5% to 7% in the past year alone, making bidding for work more complicated.

The $3 million in funding, meanwhile, will go toward the first phase of The Greater Dunbar Initiative. That includes a 92-unit housing development on Cleveland Avenue to house residents while the Housing Authority completes the large-scale revitalization of the Southward Village community. That project will be in an abandoned car dealership lot.

The agency broke ground on that first phase of the project last year, Davis says, and she expects work to pick up momentum this summer. She expects work to begin on the second, third and fourth phases, at Southward Village, later this year. The leade developer/planning firm on the overall project is St. Louis-based McCormack Baron Salazar.

The Greater Dunbar Initiative recently received $8 million funding.
Courtesy photo

Southward Village, says Davis, is a 1960s-style housing complex that “is past its lifecycle.” Homes in the 37-acre, 199-unit development were built mostly in cinder block, and the streets lack sidewalks and proper lighting, according to a video on the project on the housing authority’s website. Roofs are in constant need of repair. Another problem stems from central air conditioning: it was installed in many of the homes several years ago, but the walls weren’t built properly to withstand the moisture, so mold has set in, say housing authority officials. 

“What we have now is a thing of the past and this housing is outdated,” Davis says in the video. “We have to do better for our residents. We are planning for the next generation. I lived in public housing, so personally this means something to me. We know we can do better, and we can build better.” 

The plan is to turn Southward Village into what Davis calls “a true-mixed income community” that improves existing affordable housing options and creates “market-rate amenities.” Plans call for 375 new mixed-income apartments, in a variety of building sizes; a 20,000-square-foot grocery store; a rebuilt elementary school; a central park with trails and a large pond; tree-lined sidewalks; revitalization of the Farmer’s Market; and added retail, dining and entertainment. The project also includes nearly $100 million in capital improvements.

In June 2021, the Greater Dunbar Initiative was selected as one of five initiatives nationwide, and the only in Florida, to receive a federal Choice Neighborhood Initiative grant. That grant was awarded through HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant program.

“My vision for this city is that we be one, united city — a great place to live, work and raise a family,” Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson says in a statement about the $8 million in funding. “This is a big, $300 million project, so every little bit that comes in helps toward reaching that goal, fulfilling that dream and making that vision come true.”

(This story was updated to reflect the new name for the project at McCollum Hall.)



Mark Gordon

Mark Gordon is the managing editor of the Business Observer. He has worked for the Business Observer since 2005. He previously worked for newspapers and magazines in upstate New York, suburban Philadelphia and Jacksonville.

Latest News


Special Offer: Only $1 Per Week For 1 Year!

Your free article limit has been reached this month.
Subscribe now for unlimited digital access to our award-winning business news.
Join thousands of executives who rely on us for insights spanning Tampa Bay to Naples.