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Affordable housing provided by CHR changes lives

By Staff | Jan 27, 2016

Melanie Moraga (middle), with her two daughters, Emily (left) and Hannah (right). PHOTO PROVIDED

With the upcoming Community Housing and Resources’ biggest fundraising event coming up Saturday, Feb. 6, at the Dunes Golf and Tennis Club, the importance of affordable housing for those in need of it is coming to the forefront of peoples’ minds once again.

With 60-percent of CHR’s income coming from collecting rent, 26-percent coming from the City of Sanibel, the remaining 13-percent comes from fundraising efforts like Mardi Gras.

Affordable housing is an important component to keeping Sanibel diverse and its workforce strong. 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.

CHR currently has 74 rentals to offer those working on the island or the retired.

“It does help low-income people and it offers affordable housing so they don’t have to leave the community strictly based on income,” said CHR executive director Kelly Collini.

But the most important aspect CHR offers is hope and opportunity.

For Melanie Moraga, CHR has provided just that – and more.

Moraga was hired by the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum in September of 2012 as a part-time admission specialist. She later was promoted to full-time executive assistant, where her responsibilities expanded to scheduling of all group tours, membership and volunteer coordination, fundraising and donor relations.

The mother of two had to commute from Estero to Sanibel every morning, before she heard about what CHR offered, so she decided to go in and apply.

“Driving from Estero was quite the trip,” Moraga said. “I was under the impression I was going to be on a waiting list for a long time, so I kept putting it off.”

But the opportunity to being able to live on Sanibel and only minutes from work was too good to pass up, so on July 1, 2014, Moraga went into the CHR offices and applied.

Good move.

“I was told after the interview, that they had a unit opening up in the next couple of weeks, I was in disbelief,” Moraga said. “When we went to take a tour of one of the units, I fell in love with the place and could not believe it could be mine. I felt it was meant to be.”

By Aug. 1, Sanibel had their newest resident and a very happy one at that.

Her commute was radically cut down to just four minutes and with her two daughters, Emily (14 years old) and Hannah (12), the family became true islanders.

“Working on the island has been amazing,” Moraga said. “I just can’t describe how great it is to work and live on Sanibel. This place is a jewel. I love going down to the grocery store and knowing the employees by their names. Living here gives you an amazing sense of community.”

Collini explained in an earlier feature story on CHR, which ran in the Island Reporter May 27, 2015, that the affordable housing is not a give away to the renters.

“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.”

It’s that opportunity which has changed Moraga’s life to its fullest capacity.

She said her daughters love living on the island and even the traffic doesn’t bother her at all.

“This is the best place in the world to get stuck in traffic,” Moraga laughed. “Without CHR, I would still be living in Estero, where it would be much more expensive than I am paying for right now.

“CHR has an amazing opportunity for people. They gave me the opportunity to live again, to feel alive again. I was a stay at home mom for 10 years and now I am an assistant director and living in paradise.”

And much like every other past resident who was able to be helped by CHR, giving back is important.

“Hopefully one day I can purchase my own home and then pay it forward to help someone else like CHR has helped me,” Moraga said. “That’s my goal.”

Now on her off time from the National Shell Museum, Moraga gets to take pictures of sunsets and all the wildlife on the island. Her award-winning photograph “Sunset Before the Storm”, taken at Blind Pass Beach on Sanibel, was published in the November/December 2012 issue of Florida Travel + Life magazine.

“I’ve learned if you have a dream, don’t give up on it,” Moraga said. “Because it’s possible to live it.”