County Must Sign An Ordinance
To Rid Blight In Lehigh Acres
Letter to the Editor,
For the last several years, many of us in Lehigh Acres have been working hard to overcome the devastating effects of the mortgage foreclosure crisis. We’ve watched far too many homes being abandoned and vandalized. To defend ourselves, we’ve formed neighborhood watches and donated our time and money to help clean up these properties and to try to make them safe.
We’ve worked closely with both code and law enforcement to try to protect our neighborhoods. We’ve had our successes, our frustrations and our disappointments, but we keep on
trying. Earlier this year, I became aware of the Vacant Property Registration Ordinance the City of Fort Myers has had in effect since 2010.
I learned that it has been a very effective tool for their code enforcement department. Banks are being held accountable, properties are being maintained and neighborhoods are becoming safer. I also learned that more than 100 other cities and counties throughout Florida have similar ordinances.
I began asking why Lee County didn’t have an ordinance. After working closely with code enforcement and the sheriff ’s office all these years, I have the utmost respect for what they do for our communities. Both agencies are overworked and understaffed due to the economic downturn.
This ordinance would help them both to do their jobs more efficiently.
My question was quickly answered by the reaction of the local real estate and banking community. They lobbied the Lee County commissioners hard telling them that they didn’t need an ordinance. To prove my case, I began a public outreach that resulted in nearly 1,500 signed petitions supporting the proposed ordinance.
Those petitions were then turned to the commissioners.
These were some of the comments I heard from my neighbors as the petitions were being signed:
» If I’m responsible for maintaining my property, why aren’t the banks responsible for maintaining theirs?
» These abandoned homes are attracting criminals and squatters, something has to be done!
» This home is my most valuable possession, my life-savings is invested in it and it is being stolen from me by the bank’s neglect.
» I have worked hard all my life to provide for my family. I take pride in my property, but the crime and decay brought on by these abandoned properties is destroying everything I’ve worked for.
» I wanted to use the equity in my home to borrow money for my children’s education.
Because of the real estate downturn and the collapse of my property value, it looks like my children may have to forget about college.
» When I moved here, this was a great neighborhood. Now look at it.
Boarded up houses, broken windows, overgrown yards … It breaks my heart.
At the Aug. 13 county commission meeting, Realtor Stephanie Keyes, purportedly representing 4,400 members of her local board, said the proposed ordinance would be a hardship on her members because the banks would make them pay the proposed $200 registration fee.
My community has nearly 90,000 residents and approximately 3,000 abandoned homes. We are living this nightmare and all she can think about is who is going to pay the registration fee?
Something is wrong here.
We are fighting for our lives here and all the bankers and self-centered real estate people can think about are themselves. Please help us take back our neighborhoods by letting the commissioners know that you support the Vacant Property Registration Ordinance by giving them a call today.
The matter will be addressed by the county commissioners on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.
George E. Szymanski, chair, Neighborhood Restoration/Beautification Subcommittee of the Lehigh Acres Community Initiative.