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Lehigh Acres: If it happened there it could happen anywhere

By Staff | Feb 19, 2009

So much has been written lately about the tough times our neighbors in Lehigh Acres and surrounding areas are going through that it’s very tough for me to write something humorous this week. My heart truly bleeds for them.

Although the distance between Sanibel and Lehigh Acres is something like 30 miles, it seems more like a 1,000 miles. We in Sanibel live in reasonable comfort and security while our neighbors those 30 miles away are in true despair. Their lives have been wrecked; they’ve lost their homes and their jobs and are now scrounging around for food and bare subsistence in an area that looks more like Baghdad than an American suburb.

Many residents of Lehigh Acres commute to Sanibel every day to provide the range of services we require for our homes and yards. For a period of time these loyal service providers bought into the American dream. They bought homes they thought they could afford because the market value of their homes kept increasing with no end in sight.

They borrowed against the inflated value of their homes, had well paying jobs in the booming construction industry and brought joy to area retail stores through their many purchases. Times were good.

My handyman, whom I relied on greatly, lived in Lehigh Acres. He had bought a house there just before the prices got to be over inflated. He had a lot of jobs in Sanibel, working for people like me. Life was good. Jim made the decision to sell his house at a huge profit and move to Arkansas to buy a farm. He knew intuitively that he should sell his house in Lehigh Acres before the roof might fall in literally.

Jim’s timing was good. He sold his house at a profit and moved to Arkansas. His friends and neighbors weren’t nearly as lucky. They thought the value of their homes would continue to escalate. I guess we all did no matter where we lived.

Then the world as we knew it came to an end. There is now abject poverty throughout Lehigh Acres as well as in most of Lee County. Who would have thought this could happen right here in our own backyard?

Of course, there are lessons to be learned. Overbuilding, affordability, easy credit, lax regulations and all of those considerations have been written about extensively. The U.S. economy and the way we do business will change. But what’s most immediate is the concern we have for those families in Lehigh Acres who thought they were living the American dream and now find themselves in their own version of a third world country.

We in Sanibel need to find a way to help these people. Their misfortune is our misfortune. Lee County as well as the state of Florida is being singled out as a prime example of what went wrong with the American dream. President Obama visited our area this week with words of compassion and help. But we in Sanibel need to think about what we ourselves can do to help those less fortunate than us. These are our neighbors just up Route 41, not the population of a needy country halfway around the world. We brought this on ourselves. Now it’s time to help.