New affordable housing community marks new beginning for many in Fort Myers

With praise from local and state officials, the first phase of the St. Peter Claver Place affordable housing community, with 136-units, was blessed by Bishop Frank J. Dewane on Feb. 27, 2024.

The Diocese of Venice partnered on the project with National Development of America, Inc. (NDA), and was supported by the City of Fort Myers, the Fort Myers Community Redevelopment Agency, and the Florida Housing Finance Corporation.

During the blessing and ribbon-cutting ceremony, Bishop Dewane thanked each of the officials and NDA for their support in getting the much-needed project built. A second phase of 78 units is already in the works.

“We had this property and believed this was the perfect place to build quality housing that is affordable for families,” Bishop Dewane said. “By creating this housing, families with children will stay together, and they can remain in Fort Myers and be great contributors to the community.”

Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson said events, like the ribbon-cutting for St. Peter Claver Place, make the struggles and challenges of governing a city like ours all worthwhile. “Bishop, thank you for pulling this all together.  This shows how government can work to address housing needs working with great community partners.”

City Council member Johnny W. Streets Jr. said he has been on the Council long enough to remember when the project was first proposed more than eight years ago and the results were spectacularly better than he ever imagined.

“This is probably one of my brightest moments since I have been on the Council,” Streets said. “It started with a dream, a vision and now to fruition. Thank you!”

Humbled by the collaborative spirit that has brought St. Peter Claver Place into existence, Michelle Hylton-Terry, Executive Director, Fort Myers Community Redevelopment Agency, said the project is the culmination of a shared mission that has strengthened the community by addressing a critical need.

“The buildings of St. Peter Claver are not merely structures, but they are cornerstones of hope,” Hylton-Terry said. “They provide a foundation for families to build their lives, nurture their dreams, and contribute to the vibrant tapestry of Fort Myers. This development not only fills a crucial need, but serves as a catalyst for growth, fostering a more inclusive and prosperous city.”

Ryan Benson, Chair of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation Board of Directors, said he was proud his agency could facilitate the project and was impressed by the quality of the development and promised support for future projects.

Although the project faced numerous delays and massive price increases since its first proposal in 2016, National Development’s Rick Miller said the time and effort has been worth every moment.

“Not everyone can afford decent housing,” Miller said. “But these apartments are offered at prices families can actually afford. That is the most rewarding part of this.”

The 136 apartments are two- and three-bedroom units, built to hurricane standards and complete with new appliances. There is an on-site playground and clubhouse. An added amenity is the proximity to AFCAAM of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. This program, on the adjacent property, offers after-school care and tutoring, as well as summer programs for children and teens.

Monthly rent ranges from $630 to $1,300, less than half the market rate. Without promotion or advertising, Miller said there is already a waitlist of more than 1,500 for the 136 apartments that will be available in mid-March. Phase 2 is in the planning stages, and total build out would reach 214 units.

Previously, the Diocese and NDA worked together in Arcadia to build San Pedro at Meadow Park affordable housing, Casa San Juan Bosco I & II, 97 duplex homes used for farmworker housing, and later the adjoining St. John Paul II Villas, a 64-unit senior housing complex. Other projects include the recently completed Casa San Alfonso, an affordable housing community in Zolfo Springs. Additional affordable housing projects are currently in development for Lehigh Acres and Immokalee.

In addition, the Diocese has built several low-income elderly housing communities in Sarasota (2), Fort Myers (4), Port Charlotte (2), and Palmetto (2), as well as creating transitional emergency housing for individuals or families in need in partnership with Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. in North Port and Englewood.

Bishop Dewane concluded a blessing prayer service by saying, “May Christ always be here among the residents, nurturing in love, sharing in joy, and comforting in sorrow. Inspired by His teaching, His graces, and His example, may the residents seek to make each home a dwelling place to be shared with God.”