CHARLOTTE COUNTY, Fla. — Charlotte County commissioners sent a letter of support to Congressman Greg Steube, asking him to cosponsor a bill that could help Southwest Florida’s affordable housing crisis.
On Tuesday, commissioners signed the letter supporting the HELPERS Act. It’s similar to the VA home loan, but for teachers and first responders such as Charlotte County Fire and EMS.
“We have to continue to keep up with our fire and EMS services,” said Deputy Chief Bryan Carr.
He says the department has hired 12 firefighters recently and two other positions are still open as they work to keep up with our area’s growth.
“It’s a very tight market [housing],” said Charlotte County commissioner Christopher Constance.
The letter sent to Steube, who represents Florida’s 17th District, is where the letter is directed to. In it, it explains how the bill would help the County recruit and retain workers, such as teachers and first responders.
“They’re having a really hard time finding housing that’s affordable and so this HELPER Act really allows them to get a leg up,” Constance explained. “It’s a very low-interest mortgage that they’re allowed to have for first time users of this.”
The letter says the bill would get rid of a down payment requirement and a monthly mortgage insurance premium. It would also require the program to be reauthorized after five years.
Carr says they haven’t seen an affordable housing issue in the department, but believes this bill could be useful in the future.
“Making it easier for new firefighter-paramedics coming in to find a place to stay, to move, to where they’re not having to drive or commute from their current location,” he explained.
The Charlotte County School District is looking to hire 40 teachers, according to their website. Punta Gorda Police and the Sheriff’s Office needs at least one law enforcement officer, according to their respective websites.
“We really need to have these folks supported,” Constance said. “Not having this tool in the tool chest is really negatively affecting us.”
The bill was introduced to Congress back in May 2021 by Rep. John Rutherford, who represents the Jacksonville area. It has stayed stagnant ever since.
Commissioners are sending the letter to Steube soon and Constance says he’s optimistic this bill will make progress in the next few months.