Why is Lehigh Acres Abandoned?

June 14, 2023

LEHIGH ACRES, Fla. — Desperation is creeping into this once-middle-class exurb of Fort Myers, and it’s showing up in places you might not expect. Thieves stole air conditioner parts for scrap, and drug dealers moved in, turning vacant houses into marijuana grow rooms. Last winter, Charlotte Rae Nicely, executive director of Lehigh Community Services, noticed something else: more people were hungry. Families were visiting food pantries more frequently, sometimes using aliases to help themselves to multiple baskets.

Despite the economic headwinds, many residents here say they don’t want to leave. They want their neighborhoods to return to what they once were – safe, attractive, and affordable. They hope to avoid the stigma of blight and neglect that has plagued their town since it was created from former Army Air Forces runways and ranch land in the 1940s.

But to do so will require some sleuthing. A drive down almost any block in this sprawling grid of unadorned streets and quarter-acre lots can be a bit of an eye-opener, with dozens of homes standing empty in a neighborhood where foreclosures were once commonplace.

Some local residents, like Ruth Ann Anglickis, spokeswoman for One Voice, are pushing the Lee County Commission to pass an ordinance that would make someone responsible for maintaining abandoned homes and yards, including keeping the grass cut. She says it’s not about being open-minded on long-term solutions, but about taking action now to prevent more blight from spreading across the community.


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