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Lee commissioners get generous with affordable housing and conservation

As the year comes to an end, Lee County leaders look to buy 30 acres for conservation and give out $5 million in grants.

  • By Louis Llovio
  • | 5:45 p.m. December 21, 2023
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
Lee County in August 2020 approved a purchase of 193.82 acres on Four Mile Cove Parkway, Cape Coral, adjacent to Four Mile Cove Ecological Park, pictured here.
Lee County in August 2020 approved a purchase of 193.82 acres on Four Mile Cove Parkway, Cape Coral, adjacent to Four Mile Cove Ecological Park, pictured here.
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You’re going to be hard pressed to find anyone calling the Lee County commissioners Grinch this holiday season, a feat not often accomplished by politicians.

At the final full commission meeting of the year earlier this month, commissioners voted to begin work on purchasing five pieces of land totaling 30 acres in order to set them aside for conservation, and it awarded four local organizations more than $5 million for affordable housing programs.

Four of the properties are 5-acre infill parcels in the southeast Lee and within Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed. The fifth is 10 acres on Pine Island, southwest of the Little Pine Island Mitigation Area and next to Pine Island Flatwoods Bayside, which is east of Stringfellow Road.

Commissioners approved for staff to “pursue the purchase” of the acreage and to come back with terms for the deals for final consideration.

The purchases, when and if completed, will be for Lee’s Conservation 20/20 Land Acquisition program. The program, which was approved by voters in 1996 and reaffirmed with 86% of the vote in 2016, was created to buy land for “resource-based opportunities” including hiking, birdwatching and nature studies. It also helps the county to protect drinking water, protect areas from flooding and provide wildlife habitats.

Since its inception, 159 properties totaling 31,437 acres have been bought, the county says.

According to its fiscal year 2022 annual report, the most recent available online, the program’s acquisition budget was $40.24 million, and it spent $1.78 million purchasing properties during that time frame.

The county’s Stewardship Advisory Committee along with the Conservation 20/20 unanimously recommended the purchase.

At the same meeting, commissioners approved $5.4 million in State Housing Initiatives Partnership grant agreements for people in need of affordable housing. The grants, which will go to four organizations, will provide help to 48 very low and 49 low-income households, including 53 households that include individuals with special needs, the county says.

The grants will be divided up between Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties ($2.2 million for down payment assistance for 32 households); the Lee County Housing Development Corp. ($2.5 million for several programs); the Affordable Homeownership Foundation ($300,000 for rental construction for two households); and Goodwill Industries of Southwest Florida ($380,00 for the rehabilitation of 14 very low income apartment units).

The SHIP program is state funded and governed locally by strategies in the county’s Local Assistance Housing Plan which the board adopted in March. The program, according to the county, “places a priority on serving very low, low, and special needs households and requires 65% of the funds be spent on homeownership activities.”

The meeting was held Dec. 5 and was the final county commissioners meeting of 2023, according to Lee’s official calendar on its website. The calendar does show that there was a workshop and zoning meeting were held in a 24-hour period after that.

As for whether the two decisions will stop jokes about politicians having hearts two sizes too small, one can only hope it will. At least until the next meeting that is.



Louis Llovio

Louis Llovio is the deputy managing editor at the Business Observer. Before going to work at the Observer, the longtime business writer worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Maryland Daily Record and for the Baltimore Sun Media Group. He lives in Tampa.

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