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Local businesses give TPI feedback on co-living project
December 19, 2018

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A growing housing trend could give workers on Fort Myers Beach an affordable rental option.

TPI held a focus group last Tuesday to gather opinions from local businesses on their proposed communal living project, Beaches Gateway Village.

It's a kind of "co-living" project designed specifically for the needs of Fort Myers Beach: less traffic, more staff.

Co-living is on the rise in major urban centers around the country, due to rising rents, declining incomes, and a young workforce with less interest in homeownership.

Companies like Common, which operates 15 co-living buildings in six major cities, and Oakland-based Open Door offer all-inclusive fully-furnished properties with amenities like weekly maid services, free wi-fi, and a roster of social events.

Think of it as a college dorm for adults, or a retirement community for millennials.

"I think this is just one idea that could be very beneficial for our community," said Lois Croft, director of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association's Southwest region.

She was in attendance at the focus group, along with nearly 30 other industry professionals.

According to Croft, hospitality workers across Southwest Florida struggle to find housing they can afford and reliable transportation to work.

"Collier county has been discussing affordable housing for employees in the hospitality industry, too. There's definitely a need for solutions," she said.

Beaches Gateway Village would be the first of its kind in Lee County, where service industry employees spend more than 60 percent of their income on housing, according to a 2018 report.

With lower-than-market rent, included utilities, and provided transportation, the housing complex aims to cut that percentage in half.

In a typical furnished unit, 4 ensuite bedrooms would cluster around a common living space, kitchen, and balcony.

The unit could have up to 4 separate leases at $800 each, meaning tenants would not be financially tied to their roommates.

Variations on this set-up include family units or double occupancy rooms priced at $550 each.

TPI claims that a single occupant would need to make $15.38 per hour to afford their 30 percent housing cost burden, compared to Lee County's current $25 per hour threshold.

"In our discussion with the group, most people thought it was a fairly reasonable price. It's a lot cheaper than for them to go out and find an apartment on their own," said Croft.

The site will be located on San Carlos Boulevard near Summerlin Road, within walking distance of Walmart and Publix.

Tenants will have access to a free shuttle to Times Square and an easily accessible LeeTran stop, plus a clubhouse, a 24-hour fitness center, and a resort-style swimming pool.

The shuttle on and off the island would be key, as public transit often falls short for late-night workers.

"We're finding that it doesn't always meet the needs of the industry. They're not traveling late enough at night after the hospitality workers need to get a ride home," said Croft.

Gary Lambert, Human Resources director for Sunstream Hotels and Resorts, also attended the focus group.

His company manages the DiamondHead and Gullwing, along with other resorts in Naples, the Everglades, and Daytona Beach.

He's seen this kind of housing in his line of work before, but only for temporary workers.

"I think it would make a great transitional option for individuals that might be newly coming to the area or wanting to get jobs at the beach where they can live a little bit closer," he said.

He doesn't see it being a good option for larger families in terms of affordability, but perhaps single parent families could benefit from co-living.

"You know that saying, it takes a village? It creates some opportunities for folks like that, and that type of family arrangement might be effective," he said.

"Anything we can do to get people closer to this area that might make them better candidates for our job openings, I'm all for it."

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