Eileen Forde took a path similar to many Naples transplants. She worked hard, enjoying...
IMMOKALEE — Eileen Forde took a path similar to many Naples transplants. She worked hard, enjoying a successful career as a financial analyst for an insurance company. When the time was right, she retired and moved south to partake in the carefree lifestyle that has come to define sunny Southwest Florida.
At first, she spent her days on the golf course, simply enjoying life as a young retiree. Eileen first volunteered for her HOA Board of Directors and served as Treasurer for several terms. Still feeling unfulfilled, though, she began volunteering with local nonprofits and providing financial support to causes close to her heart, like education and social services.
Wanting to truly make a difference, Eileen continued supporting a variety of nonprofits throughout the year, but began issuing a “substantial” donation to one fortunate organization at year’s end. She would choose a different nonprofit every year, spreading her generosity among deserving nonprofits.
Through her research and conversations with nonprofit leaders, Eileen began to learn more about the deepening housing crisis in Southwest Florida. The region’s lack of affordable housing has been well-documented, but there isn’t as much awareness about substandard housing – families living in homes and trailers with roof damage from hurricanes, toxic mold, insect and rodent infestations, and no running water or electricity.
“No family should live in those conditions,” Eileen says.
Eileen was introduced to the Immokalee Fair Housing Alliance (IFHA), a registered 501(c)(3) with a mission to eliminate substandard and overcrowded rental housing for farmworker families and other low-income residents of Immokalee.
In Immokalee, 31.7% of residents are living in poverty, according to the U.S. Census, and the median household income is $33,249. Many families report spending up to 70% of their income on housing. These aren’t luxury townhomes or lakefront villas; they are dilapidated mobile homes and shacks.
Fixing Immokalee’s housing situation permeates other areas that will make the community a better place to live, work and play.
“Housing is critical,” Eileen notes. “Stable jobs and stable housing means children can stay in school, and getting a good education creates a path to a better future.”
In 2020, Eileen selected IFHA as the recipient of her substantial year-end donation. In 2021, she broke with tradition and directed another year-end donation to IFHA, and did the same again in 2022.
“The Immokalee Fair Housing Alliance is a small nonprofit, so your donations will have a greater impact,” Eileen says. “Everything you give IFHA directly supports the cause.”
IFHA has purchased 10 acres off Lake Trafford Road in Immokalee, obtained permits and completed infrastructure for a new community that will have 128 rental units. Rents will be no more than an affordable 30% of household income. Thanks to Eileen and others like her, construction of the first of eight buildings and a community center will begin in January, and families should begin to move in by late 2023. Work on the other seven buildings will commence when additional funding is raised. Once complete, 128 families will have access to safe, affordable homes, the first step in ensuring a bright future for the next generation.
“Safe and affordable housing not only gives these families and children a more stable future, but it also gives Immokalee a stable future as well,” Eileen says.
About the Author
Arol Buntzman is chair of the Immokalee Fair Housing Alliance, a nonprofit that provides secure, affordable rental housing for farmworker families and low-income residents of Immokalee. To support the IFHA, please visit ImmokaleeFairHousing.org.