Within one of nation's wealthiest counties lies one of most poor & ignored communities

Push for affordable housing in Immokalee

By Lucas Seiler

There’s a new push to provide one of the most under-served communities in Florida relief and a brighter future. Two groups have partnered together with the goal of providing the people of Immokalee a better place to live.

It’s one of the few areas in Collier County where trash is allowed to build up in vacant lots. The community often gets put on the back burner compared to upscale Naples.

The reality is, what you see when driving through the tiny agriculture-driven community is not at all representative of its determined people.

“People here are working hard and farming all of the time,” said Joseph Jaque of Immokalee.

He moved to Immokalee from Haiti 20 years ago and walks the main street every day. What he sees is no comparison to anything closer to the Gulf of Mexico, yet both communities happen to be in one of the wealthiest counties in the United States.

“Immokalee, I think, is a good community, but so many people live in debt.”

The small community often attracts missionaries sent to poverty-stricken communities to educate and promote economic development, like Shaylor Christiansan of Utah.

“There are a lot of good people here,” said Christiansan. “They have a lot of faith, just not the necessary resources.”

In a way, the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders and Florida Housing Coalition, have the same goal. As they research the biggest problems Immokalee faces and the issues that Collier County has with funding, they are coming up with new ways to build affordable homes there.

“It’s really challenging for low-income folks to stay above the water in an economy that is surging,” said Noel Poyo, Executive Director for NALCAB. “And that’s really what we’re beginning to see.”

Plus, as federal and state funding for housing decreases, counties like Collier need help stepping outside of the box to look for potential financial resources.

Poyo said his organization helps Latino and minority communities attract and generate investment. His team will spend the next several months working with Collier County to understand their needs and take advantage of opportunities discovered along the way.

“It doesn’t matter how low-income or challenging it is,” said Poyo. “There are opportunities to be found there. There are people worth investing in.”