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Affordable CHR housing offers new chances in life

By Staff | May 27, 2015

When Allen Dunham came to Sanibel for work around 15 years ago, his fortunes had taken a downturn and he was looking for a new lease on life.

His recovery started by landing a job at one of the hotels on Sanibel, but momentum really took off when he was able to find affordable living on what is mostly a high-end island to live.

“I went through a time where life pulled the rug from underneath me and I had to start over,” Dunham said. “I fell in love with Sanibel, but it was way too expensive to live on.”

But he found out about a program called Community Housing and Resources on Sanibel, and it put in motion a turning point in his life.

“I applied to CHR and eventually got in,” Dunham said. “It made all the difference in the world. I fell in love with the place, and I care about the island and environment. People are always fighting for the island to prevent it from being ruined. To be able to live and work out here, it means a lot.”

CHR is a non-profit 501 (C3) organization, which partners with the City of Sanibel to provide affordable housing for families and individuals who work full-time on Sanibel or are retired or disabled residents of the island.

It’s been a program which has served the City of Sanibel’s Below Market Rate Housing Rental Program since 1979 and it partnered with the city in 1983.

Since then, CHR has helped many people to live on the island who fill the workforce of the businesses on Sanibel.

“The average rent currently is $668 a month and we have 74 rentals to offer,” said CHR Executive Director Kelly Collini. “It does help low-income people and it offers affordable housing so they don’t have to leave the community strictly based on income.”

Most of the residents who rent CHR housing also work on the island. There is plenty of criteria for people who want to live in the units offered by CHR.

One is they must make a minimum of $14,600 a year (minimum wage) and need to work full-time. Housing is also offered to seniors 65-years and older.

“CHR does help keep diversity on the island, as well,” Collini said. “And it’s not a handout, the biggest portion of our budget comes from rent.”

Rent is based on 30-percent of the individual’s income, with a minimum of $350 per month set.

There are also annual entry income maximums depending on the household size. For a one-person household, the max is $48,480. Other limits include: two-person ($55,320); three-person ($62,280); four-person ($69,120), five-person ($74,760) and six-person ($80,280).

If the individual or total annual income goes over these thresholds during the year, they will have to move out, with a good amount of advance warning by CHR.

“All the adults in the household need to work, which means anyone over 18 years old will need to work,” Collini said. “And residents need to make their units their homestead, because we don’t want them to be used as snowbird properties, so there is a time limit of 30 days if you are going to be away.”

But it’s the opportunities CHR provides to people who earn lower incomes, which is the biggest benefit of them all.

As Collini referred to before, the CHR program is not a free handout to their residents.

The majority who live in one of the 74 units, which includes 11 properties, work and also volunteer their time on the island to one or more of the non-profit organizations on the island.

“I work for a vacation rental company now, and as they say, tourism drives our economy here,” Dunham said. “It provides me a job and it allows me to do fun things like volunteering.”

Another resident who is very appreciative of her CHR living opportunity, is Olga Del Rio, who has lived on Sanibel for the last eight years and works at one of the beauty salons.

“It’s very nice living here and I live in a beautiful apartment,” Del Rio said. “It’s very affordable and it’s convenient for me to go to work, because it’s only five minutes away.”

That’s the main reason for CHR providing their units, eliminating the commute. The employers are also grateful because they have employees who live nearby and it eliminates the toll fee, as well.

Families are a very important aspect to CHR housing, with 38 children residing in units. There are also senior living units, with 27 out of 74 residents being of the age of 65 or older.

The Casa Mariposa complex just off of Periwinkle Way is an all-senior apartment 12-unit facility.

The average income of a CHR resident is $27,000.

“The turnover rate is 27-percent, so that’s pretty low,” Collini said. “Having housing on the island provides stability for people who work here, because they don’t have to commute from Fort Myers. One resident also commented that it allows her at least two more hours a day with her kids, because she doesn’t have to commute.”

CHR also provides ownership potential and has 14 limited equity ownership (LEO) homes through the Coast and Islands Community Land Trust.

There is a 10-year appreciation maximum, meaning the homeowner’s appreciation level stops after 10 years of owning the property. Then when they are ready to sell, CHR buys back the property.

“There are income limits to qualify and we do adhere to the HUD criteria and also through grant (rules),” Collini said. “They need to qualify for certain income guidelines and be able to get a mortgage. Once they do buy, they own the property and can do want they want to do and gain better employment and don’t have to work on the island.”

The LEO properties include three bedroom, two bath and two bedrooms and two bath, as well as a one bed, one bath unit.

Currently, all 74 CHR units, including the 12-unit Casa Mariposa facility, and the 14 LEO properties are 100-percent occupied. There also is a waiting list, which can take up to six months or even longer.

CHR’s budget runs near the $1 million mark. The main funding sources include rent and grants, as well as its big Mardi Gras fundraiser. Donations are also an important source of funding, Collini said.

Costs such as grounds and unit upkeep is an everlasting challenge. But since 1979, the CHR Board of Directors have been the backbone to the organization.

“The Board is very giving and benevolent,” Collini said. “They truly mean what their mission of the agency is, they really mean it. Members of the board just don’t help in a financial way, but they give hours and hours of volunteer work, as well.”

The CHR Board of Directors include Richard Johnson (President), Ray Pavelka (VP), Les Boyle (Secretary), Melissa Rice (Treasurer), Sandy Boyle, Dr. Stephen Brown, George Campean, Dorothy Donaldson, Tim Garmager, Dr. Phil Marks and Rich McDonnell.

With the uptick in the economy, it’s rolling over into the CHR program. There are 20 people on the waiting list and it seems things are ready to springboard for CHR.

“We are gaining momentum and we are getting the feeling and ready to take off,” said Dan Whicker, who is CHR’s PR and marketing manager.

Dunham has felt that momentum, which started 15 years ago when he was able to move into a CHR unit.

“Bottom line, CHR gave me the help I needed to get a restart and the program allowed me to live out here,” Dunham said. “One thing I would love for people to understand, is the people who live in CHR, we’re regular everyday people like the rest, we just don’t have the means to live out here without CHR.

“We’re contributors to the community, and we love the island. The ones who have kids, they want their kids in the Sanibel school. It’s very beneficial, we are just good, regular every day people doing the regular jobs. I feel we’re really a part of the fabric of Sanibel.”

To learn more about the CHR program or to donate, call 23-472-1189 or visit their website at sanibelchr.org/.