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Fair housing initiative addressed at Zonta meeting

By Staff | May 15, 2019

PHOTO PROVIDED Zontian Carol Gestwicki, right, with Dr. Arol Buntzman of the Immokalee Fair Housing Alliance and Laura Safer Espinoza, chief executive officer of the Fair Foods Standards Council.

Going up last on a busy agenda at the May 1 meeting of the Zonta Club of Sanibel-Captiva was a small deputation from Immokalee that kept an enthralled audience long past their usual time to adjourn.

The story – the urgent need for decent, affordable housing for certain sections of the population – is a familiar one to Zontians, since Zonta provides annual grants to Community Housing and Resources and to Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendy Counties, which helps provide homes for women or families headed by women.

First the club heard from retired judge Laura Safer Espinoza, director of the Fair Foods Standards Council, who outlined the progress made in creating and maintaining decent work conditions for the immigrant workers who grow, harvest and pack vegetables and fruits. It is challenging back-breaking work that Americans do not want to perform, but now thanks to Fair Foods – founded in 2011 after an initiative by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers – the work is conducted in an atmosphere of greater safety and for a living wage.

However, a larger problem for Immokalee farmworkers is housing. In 2017, Hurricane Irma destroyed much of the already sub-standard accommodation available at exorbitant rents to the year-round workers, forcing them into even more deplorable situations. Dr. Arol Buntzman, director of the newly-formed Immokalee Fair Housing Alliance, described to Zontians the bid by a small group to secure land and funding to build 100 units for farmworker families to be provided at realistic rents. They would be primarily two-bedroom, one bath units set within safe areas for play.

“The first 100 units address just a fraction of the need,” Buntzman said. “But they will give hope and generate political support for the project.”

Land has been offered at significantly below market rate by the Barron Collier Partnership; the issue is raising funds for its acquisition. With a deadline of the end of May fast approaching, another $300,000 is needed, which the foundation created by Buntzman and Espinoza will match with $100,000.

“Having a safe, affordable home is critically important for all of us, and yet the people who harvest our food lack this basic human need for themselves and their children,” literature provided during the meeting states.

It notes that women are especially vulnerable in substandard housing since staying home can leave them unprotected. Also, women often have to stay home with children who have repeated infections due to the condition of the buildings.

“Immokalee is only about an hour away from Sanibel, yet – in appalling contrast to Sanibel – it has been listed as one of the 50 worst places in the country to live,” club President Barbara Beran said. “Moreover, the available substandard housing in Immokalee is less accessible to women-headed households. The Immokalee Fair Housing Alliance’s plan is congruent with Zonta’s mission: we have always advocated for affordable, safe and fit housing for women, and we enthusiastically encourage the members of our community to support this much needed and worthwhile cause in any way they can.”

For more about Fair Foods Standards Council, visit www.fairfoodstandards.org.

For more on the Immokalee Fair Housing Alliance, visit www.IFHA.info.

For more about the Zonta Club of Sanibel-Captiva, visit www.zontasancap.com.

Source: Zonta Club of Sanibel-Captiva